JOHNS CREEK—After the screening of “An American Tail” at the 2011 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, director Don Bluth and producer Gary Goldman took questions from the audience.
Jasmine George, 8, said she wanted to be an animator.
“How old are you now?” Bluth asked.
Upon learning her age, Bluth said that animation literally means “to bring life”. As a future animator, Bluth said he did not think George would be literally creating life but, rather, the illusion of life.
“You have to take screen time to let the characters think,” Bluth said.
He cited the film “Bambi”. In one part, the rabbit Thumper comments on Bambi being wobbly. His mother asks him what his father told him. After asking what time his father told him something, Thumper thinks for a moment before saying he was told if he cannot say something nice, not to say anything at all.
“You watch this little rabbit think,” he said.
When asked how many people it took to make “An American Tail,” Goldman said around 1,000 people were involved. This included 100 sound personnel and 250 artists.
When asked if it was possible the characters from the film would be depicted as human beings rather than mice, Bluth said it is easier to teach lessons using animals rather than humans. Using human characters risked putting audience members on the defensive.
Sitting with Bluth and Goldman at the front of the theater was Eddy Von Mueller, a lecturer in media studies at Emory University.
“I teach a class in animation history,” he said.
He said Dr. Matthew Bernstein, the chair of film and media studies at Emory, serves as the co-chair of the festival. He brought Von Mueller on board because he knows how much Von Mueller appreciates animation.
“This is a huge treat,” Von Mueller said. “I’ve been watching these guys work for many, many years.”
He said “An American Tail” was the first time someone had seriously tried to compete with Disney.
“If you don’t have competition, you don’t have any incentive to excel,” he said.
He said the film was a game-changer. Now, there are many companies producing feature-length animation, not just Disney.
Bernard Schoenfeld, a visitor from Emerson, N.J., spoke to Bluth after the film.
“My daughter bought tickets for this more than a month ago,” he said.
Schoenfeld said younger children view this as another animated movie, but older viewers can recognize deeper aspects to it. The cats that drive protagonist Fievel’s parents out of Russia, for instance, are analogous to the Cossacks persecuting the Jews.
“It’s not just the Jews going to America,” he said. “You have Irish, you have Italians. People came here for freedom.”
He said he took his daughters and son to see the film when it first played in the theaters and now took his grandchildren.
“This is my second time, and I haven’t seen it since,” he said.
He pointed out that “Somewhere Out There,” one of the major songs in the film, has been a major hit for decades.