Since I have already written a review back in spring of 2001 that touches on the brilliance of this animated treasure, this review will focus primarily on the newly released DVD of the film.
I for one, was certainly thrilled to learn that Universal was finally giving Fievel the coveted DVD treatment, and anticipated its release on the format each day since. Yes, features are scarce, and yes, the film is presented in full frame only, but the way I see it, having An American Tail on DVD at all is a milestone for me, since it is a title I have yearned for since the early days of the format. Do not get me wrong, I am a VERY strong supporter of original aspect ratio on home video, but An American Tail is not exactly a film that cries out for the anamorphic widescreen treatment. In this case, its omission does not really detract from the experience. But then again, maybe I am being slightly biased about this film, having seen it once as child, loved it, and becoming hooked on it ever since.
As far as the picture quality is concerned, aside from the image being full frame, I was actually rather impressed. I was not expecting the image to be quite so crisp and clear. There were a few more speckles of film dirt then I thought should have been there, but for a film nearing twenty years old, it was still a good deal better than I was expecting. Clarity was most definitely improved over the VHS versions, and colors were strong and nice-looking.
The sound is also pretty great. I listened to the DTS 5.1 soundtrack on my surround system, and it is, without a doubt, the best I have ever heard this film. However, those of you who have seen American Tail numerous times over (as I have) are bound to notice changes in some of the dialogue as compared to past video releases. In the opening titles, for example, as we approach the Mousekewitz home, laughter is now heard inside the humans' cottage where, on the VHS release, all that can be heard is James Horner's soundtrack. Also, new or never-before-heard lines of dialogue have been spliced into the film throughtout. The most noteable instances of this are during the scenes when Fievel is trapped in a birdcage crying, just before he meets Tiger. Also, when the cats are being anchored up onto the ship headed for Hong Kong, Warren T. now utters an additional line from offscreen, which I will leave you to discover. Anyone who has seen the film a good many times is bound to notice these changes.
While this altered/re-dubbed dialogue does not necessarily hurt the film, it is still fair to question why these changes were needed. Perhaps Universal felt the need to offer something new to DVD buyers who would be purchasing this film again? There is no sense in correcting something that was never broken to begin with. Be that as it may, the changes do not take away from one's enjoyment of the film, or certainly not mine, at least.
Bottom line, American Tail lovers who are not particularly picky about aspect ratio should find this DVD well worth acquiring. Like I said, I am big on widescreen myself, but in this case, found the movie too irresistable to turn down, especially at its low list price. Full frame and re-recorded dialogue aside, An American Tail is still the classic that it was nearly 20 years ago. So buy it before you are stuck trying to find an out-of-print copy "somwhere out there."