/Answers: The Movies That Define Our Childhood

Matt Donato: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

It’s hard to recall a time when watching movies didn’t entail hours of keyboard pounding afterwards, but scant childhood memories always unearth the same recurring details. An orange and green comforter that kept me warm (that’s still in my possession today). Buttery Ritz crackers topped with cheese and pickle slices (Gherkins, duh). Sitting with Grandma and demanding to rewatch An American Tail: Fievel Goes West for the hundredth time because cats and mice and the Wild West were apparently my jam back then – these are my earliest memories as a junior cinephile.

Mom and pops both vanished daily to their professional obligations, so most of my early memories rebuild one of two grandparent households. The first less visited – a plastic-coated Italian den that always smelled deliciously of simmering red sauce pots and runny meat juices (where I watched my Darkwing Duck episodes) – the other a quaint crafter’s nest where it’d either be The Jungle Book or An American Tale. These were places of comfort, which is what Fievel’s adventure became to me. Something dependable while my parents worked to give me a good goddamn life. Who doesn’t like to relax in front of a film while their grandmother spoils them rotten just for being born? A raggedy, Jewish-Ukrainian mouse by my side while I tried to figure out how one scores such a sweet gig.

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West is a saloon-stompin’ calamity that appealed to all my interests – gun-slingin’ excitement, anthropomorphic cowboy animals, wanderlust settings – only I didn’t know it at the time. Talk to pint-sized me and he’d probably puke from anxiety at the thought of conducting on-camera celebrity interviews or traveling to numerous film festivals a year. Maybe I was entertained by Dom DeLuise as a diety cat, or Jon Lovitz as a crazy-eyed henchspider, or a doggone dueler named Wylie Burp (James Stewart), but I like to think my Fievel addiction came from a hidden thirst for adventure. Circular awakenings that now call back to this vividly animated desperado film.

Or maybe it’s because Fievel was always alone? A young mouse separated from his family, and me, an only child also without his parents in that moment (please don’t take this as a sob story, my parents were/are still major rockstars). When retroactively analyzing themes and trying to draw connections, there’s sense to be made. Fievel was my squeaky counterpart, both of us against the big bad world. Only my reality was less scary considering the numerous creative activities my grandmother pulled like rabbits from her magic babysitter hat. Yet, there could be something there – a vagabond rodent with all the gumption in the world to succeed. The undermouse hero companion I needed.

Maybe I just fell in love with the artistry of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Maybe all I needed was as top-hatted aristocat to endanger mouse populations, and knee-slapper musical numbers. Maybe I was drawn to themes of family or baddies getting their comeuppance in the most Amblin way (produced under Spielberg’s Amblimation banner). No matter the reason, one of my fondest childhood memories will forever be a couch, Grandma’s house and a VHS of Fievel Goes West. Ain’t that a slice of something special.

Ben Pearson: Hook

I still remember my family’s VHS copy of Hook, with the title written in light blue highlighter across a strip of white tape on the spine. I probably watched it more than any other live-action movie growing up, and back then, every aspect of the film worked like gangbusters for me. I had seen the animated Peter Pan movie when I was younger, but this was my introduction to the concept of a sequel that takes place decades after the events of the original tale, and I was totally captivated by the idea.

I loved the story on a primal level. As a kid yearning for adventure, I was particularly taken with the notion of the Lost Boys suiting up and battling Hook’s pirates. It tapped into what I thought were the best parts of movies like Home Alone and Macaulay Culkin’s Richie Rich: the gadgets. Blinding mirrors, marble launchers, paint sprayers, egg cannons – it all looked like so much fun, and as a kid, I valued that feeling more than anything else in the movies. Factor in elaborate tree houses, rope swings, pirate ships, vehicles that surfed through the trees, baseball, over-the-top insults, and one of the best food fights ever committed to the big screen, and you can probably see why I was so taken with this movie.

I know it’s popular to crap on Hook, and sure, your mileage may vary depending on what age you were the first time you saw it. (I first saw The Goonies in my late 20s, so I despise that movie.) But there are elements here that I will go to bat for to this day: John Williams’ incredible score, the film’s colorful production design that feels like the extension of a child’s imagination, and Robin Williams’ heartfelt and energetic performance, just to name a few. I have one word for all the haters out there: bangarang.

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