So, here we are at this festival of all things James Horner, hosted by Film Music Central. It’s certainly an exciting idea and I am eager to participate and to see what everyone else will come up with.
After a short period of contemplation, I have chosen to represent the Don Bluth directed, Spielberg produced, 1986 animated film An American Tail; it was a close call between that and The Land Before Time, another Don Bluth animation with incredibly wonderful music – I seem to have a fondness for mid to late eighties animated films don’t I? I’m just pining for the days of watching films on VHS . . .
Admittedly, I haven’t seen this film as many times as I have its sequel Fievel Goes West (a favourite to watch on videotape!), but it’s still an enjoyable watch and across repeated viewings, I have come to realize just how special Horner’s score is. On a regular blog post, I would try and look at all aspects of a film and give a general overview of how good the film is but seeing as this is a James Horner blogathon and since the music is possibly the film’s main draw, this post will primarily be looking at the music of An American Tail, going through the most memorable tracks and reflecting on what they mean to me.
So, let’s dive straight in; click the heading titles for links to the music.
And what a way to begin! Perfectly setting up the tone of the film, An American Tail begins with its opening credit sequence accompanied by an incredibly beautiful piece of music that is operatic and moving. Making perfect use of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of King’s College, this violin-led piece is so full of feeling and emotion, mostly a certain melancholy, and it is truly magnificent. Horner himself declared that this kind of music could only really work in either animation or ballet. Have a listen – let it melt your heart and water your eyes!
This piece is heard during the Cossack attack on the Russian village, alongside the cat attack on the village mice, including the central Mousekewitz family. This orchestral number is suitably dramatic and exciting, again making great use of The London Symphony Orchestra.
Spielberg apparently initially envisioned this film as a “heigh-ho” musical and we can certainly see that here. With all the hallmarks of a West End show number (the very beginning reminds me so much of Topol in Fiddler on the Roof!), albeit with some questionable lyrics, this number adds some oomph to the film and definitely gets spirits up. Well, until the very next scene . . .
As you might have guessed, this is the scene where a sea storm leads to Fievel being separated from his family. It begins gently with horns and then flutes conjuring up images of waves rolling back and forth. And of course, it all builds up dramatically, including percussion sounds to simulate crashing waves alongside piercing choral vocals to create a sense of danger; it ends with a crescendo followed by calm and it also cleverly incorporates the main theme. What’s really exceptional is that you don’t even have to have seen the film to be able to understand what the piece is about – Horner’s composition perfectly tells the tale through music alone.
This is the good ol’ “nothing is impossible” song, wherein Henri Pigeon encourages Fievel not to give up hope and to keep searching for his family. Admittedly, this isn’t my favourite song in the movie, but Christopher Plummer has such a beautiful voice and the tune is so jaunty and toe-tapping, that it is worth listening to.
Ah, now this is the big one. Winning two Grammy awards and nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar (it was beaten by Top Gun – grrr!), this is a beautiful, heart warming song about the love between a brother and sister (or about love in general) with an endearing message of always being together, no matter how far apart you are. With a wonderful idea of both people “sleeping underneath the same big sky”, this is a timeless classic and its no wonder that Spielberg saw its potential to be a Top 40 hit. And of course, Horner’s score is sensational and effortlessly tugs on your heartstrings and gets your eyes to well up; (sniffs) seriously James, how are you doing that?! 😂
OK, this one isn’t technically part of the soundtrack and isn’t a Horner composition. In this scene, Fievel finds himself in the lair of the Mott Street Maulers and our antagonist, Warren T. Rat, plays this song (badly) on the violin whilst (badly) reciting Shakespeare, much to the chagrin of his cockroach crony Digit. I mention this number because I remember that the first time I watched An American Tail, I knew I had heard this song before and spent a generous amount of time on Google desperately trying to find out what the song was. Eventually I learned that it was Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” and it fits into the film perfectly.
Sung with infectious zeal and panache by the wonderful Dom DeLuise, this is the classic “despite our differences, we’re best friends, none shall ever tear us apart” number. One of the more upbeat pieces to counteract all the doom and gloom, this is certainly fun to watch, watching these two characters bond over their shared love of butterflies, Swiss cheese ice cream and the brothers Karamousov! Even though it seems a bit unlikely that these two characters can become lifelong friends, despite having known each other for all of 2 minutes! But hey, enough of the cynicism, right?! 😉
And finishing us off is yet another beautiful orchestral piece, backed up by lovely, angelic vocals. Incorporating both the main theme and “Somewhere Out There”, this is a perfect accompaniment to watching Fievel reunited with his family. If you haven’t shed a tear yet, you surely will now!
There are a few more tracks on the soundtrack – check them out, they’re wonderful.
In summary, I’m glad that I got an opportunity to listen to Horner’s music on its own as well as in accompaniment to the film because it’s given me an even bigger appreciation of just how special it is. Those orchestral pieces, amazingly performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of King’s College, are simply divine and listening to them makes me feel all nostalgic for the films that I watched when I was younger. Also in the songs, while the lyrics are not always perfect, Horner’s music is always top notch.
So in short, ladies and gentlemen, the music of An American Tail is beautiful, moving, haunting, gorgeous, magnificent, divine and insert loads more positive adjectives here. The work of a master craftsman, thank you James!
And thanks to Bex at Film Music Central for hosting this blogathon!
To play us out, enjoy Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram’s Grammy Award winning rendition of Somewhere Out There.
James Roy Horner
August 14, 1953 – June 22, 2015