Unlike An American Tail and An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Treasure of Manhattan Island is the first of two D-T-V sequels that were produced in 1998 and 2000. And if you really take a good look at this film, you can tell it has a lot more going for it than your typical D-T-V fare.
For one, it was fully animated by Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS): and you can learn all about their other notable works here: The Magnificent Works of Tokyo Movie Shinsha. The really nice thing about this is that the animation is wonderful to look at. As is often the case with TMS, the character expressions are humorous and sincere, their gestures and movements are lively (not stilted); and while they are economic in their animation when necessary (simplifying faces and bodies when they are in the distance, or reducing frame-rates), they do it in an artistically pleasing manner. Just look at any scene in this film, and you can tell it was drawn by the same people who once worked on Animaniacs and Tiny Toons.
And, as is also typical of TMS, their personal stamp on character design is very attractive as well. They stick true to the wardrobe, the heights and stature of characters that have been established; but the precise way that they draw them reflects their approach to facial expressions and gestures: allowing them to have more freedom with performance.
In fact, if you want to see the 5 best examples of this animation company’s work, “outside” of their native Japan: then you must seek out this film, Tiny Toons: How I Spent My Vacation, Animaniacs: Wakko’s Wish; and most importantly, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. Within Japan, you should also make a point of seeing The Castle of Cagliostro, which was Hayao Miyazaki’s first film.
So, for Treasure of Manhattan Island, the story goes that Fievel apparently dreamt the entirety of Fievel Goes West; so this film takes us right back to New York, probably just a few months or so after the events of the first film. I don’t mind this so much, as the events of the 2nd film were rather over the top and exaggerated for all the characters involved. So I could easily believe that Fievel made up most of it in his mind.
Now that we’re back in Manhattan, Papa Mousekewitz is working at a cheese factory, alongside most of the mice in the area, and he’s having a very stressful time there because of the tyrannical businessmen running the place. At the same time, Tony Taponi takes Fievel out for a peek at something he’s just discovered: an abandoned subway station. (on a side-note, Tony is no longer going out with Bridget from the first film, and he’ll actually have a crush on someone else)
So Tony, Fievel and Tiger all venture into the subway, and Tony and Fievel accidently fall through the floor into a catacomb filled with dead mice bodies, who apparently were part of an old Native American tribe. Fievel stumbles upon a map stuck into one of the skeleton’s hands, and Tony decides they should take the map back to his friend, Dr. Dithering, in order that the good Doctor can decipher the ancient writing.
By the mid-point in the film, the first of the major stories at play are Papa Mousekewitz having to deal with the iron-fist of the 3 robber-barons known as Mr. Grasping, Mr. Toplofty, and Mr. O’Bloat: who are amazingly performed by Ron Perlman, Tony J, and the unforgettable Richard Kerron respectively. And the second story deals with Fievel, Tony, Tiger, Dr. Dithering, the Doctor’s assistant Scuttlebutt; journeying into the underground tunnel system beneath Manhattan, in order to find the greatest treasure of the Lenape tribe (that is, their mice brethren of course).
I won’t go further with the plot, since I won’t be picking it apart like other reviews. However, there are a couple of specific points I would like to make about how this film compares to the other two American Tails, and how it compares to other D-T-V films.
A. It is more violent than either. There is a scene in this film where a rabble-rouser at the cheese factory is effectively beaten black-and-blue by the crooked police chief and his men. It’s actually quite shocking because it’s typically not expected to see such brutality in a video-only kids film. And no one was beat up in a conventional way in the other films either: they were still rather cartoonish in their violence. This film is cartoonish, and charming, but that one moment does come out of nowhere, so best to be aware of it.
B. Normally, D-T-V films create plot-lines that are now considered dirt-simple: “The Bad-guy from the first film, or one of their siblings, returns,” “All hope is lost on Christmas Eve,” “We must solve a mystery before the bad-guy gets the McGuffin,” “The children of the original characters must experience the same thing their parents did, or go through a spiritual awakening to find their true selves,” and of course the obligatory “Excerpts from the character’s lives, gathered in a group of short stories that have no connection to each other what-so-ever.” (I’m lookin’ at you Cinderella 2 and Tarzan & Jane). But The Treasure of Manhattan Island doesn’t quite have that same problem.
Unexpectedly, it chooses to have two plots run simultaneously, whereas most films like this would just have one, and they both eventually tie into each other. Instead of rehashing the first film, we have a new adventure into the city of Manhattan. Instead of only sticking with the children, we have extended scenes dealing with the adult characters. Instead of solving a mystery, our expedition to the treasure of the Lenape finds a still-living tribe of mice living below ground. And instead of being rather tame with its violence, its relatively a little bolder than many. But that part shouldn’t deter you from seeing this.
C. Unlike most mass-produced films that include references to, or characters that are Native American; this film is at the very least partly accurate in its choice of tribe. Typically, the Native American society has been boiled down and simplified to the cliched images of the horse-back riding, feather clad Comanche warriors in the majority of movies and TV shows. But in this case, these natives are the Lenape tribe: which were a collective of multiple varied tribes all across the Pennsylvania and and current New York State areas, nick-named by the English settlers as the Delaware tribe. This tribe still wears feathers and facial markings, but this tribe lived in branch and bark covered structures rather than Teepees, which are in the film; and their brief depiction appears to be somewhat consistent with what I attempted to research. But I’m certainly not the best person to authenticate this.
As mentioned earlier, the cast of voice actors here has some surprising actors in it; the most surprising being Ron Perlman, who nearly fades away into his character with his aristocratic accent. Tony Jay often appears in many bizarre animated roles from time to time, although his character makes less of an impression here than most of his others. And much like the memorable side-characters from Don Bluth’s original movies, Richard Kerron has a distinctive gravely and horn-like sound that I wish I could have heard in more cartoons.
Most of the cast from the first film does return: like the wonderful Pat Musick as Tony Taponi, Nehemiah Persoff as Papa Mousekewitz, Erica Yohn as Mama Mousekewitz, and Dom Deluise as Tiger (although he isn’t used very much here).
The new voices start with Fievel, who is now played by the perfectly cast Thomas Dekker (much older in the picture provided, lol); and actually went on to play Littlefoot in The Land Before Time V (5) through IX (9). Thomas had a huge amount of personality for a young male voice-actor, and actually fooled me into thinking he was another seasoned female VA doing a young boy’s voice: so major props to him.
Lacey Chabert now plays Tanya, who’s most notable role is Eliza Thornberry on The Wild Thornberies.
And last we have the late David Carridine as Chief Wulisso of the Lenape tribe, and the always enjoyable Rene Auberjonois as Doctor Dithering. Rene has done a fare amount of VA work in his career, and also appeared as Professor Genius in Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, which I consider to be his best voice-over role.
Moving along, I noticed that the music for this film was a mixture of both tracks from the first two American Tail films, as well as a few bit of new music, and three song numbers: “We Live in Manhattan,” “Friends of the Working Mouse,” and “Anywhere in Your Dreams.”
“We Live in Manhattan” is a rather peppy way to start off the film. It’s perhaps the best sounding and most catchy of the songs because one: the singers are quite varied with their accents; and two: because they sound like they are theatrical performers who are used to singing musical numbers.
“Friends of the Working Mouse” is a notable song for the fact that it’s Ron Perlman and Tony Jay singing with each other along with Richard Kerron. And you don’t often get to hear a trio like that.
“Anywhere in Your Dreams” is an okay song. It won’t likely stick with you, but it is beautifully and genuinely sung by Leeza Miller.
As a final note, while it should be obvious that The Treasure of Manhattan Island is not as good as the previous two films in terms of the scope of production, or the fact that is wasn’t shot on film; it does prove to still be impressive and worth-while when stacked up against other D-T-V films that many of us were used to seeing as kids. And I am proud and pleased to have this as a part of my collection. It was indeed worth every penny.
You can pick up this movie either on DVD or on I-Tunes, as well as the first two movies. I would also highly recommend that until Fievel Goes West makes it to Blu-ray like the first film, you should purchase all of them on I-Tunes in order to get the proper aspect ratio presentation. Otherwise, you’ll be watching rather old DVDs with the screen still squashed down to fit a 4×3 television; and you’ll be missing 35-40 percent of the image.
Someday soon, we’ll be looking at the 4thAmerican Tail film. But before that, we’ll be talking about another Universal Studios D-T-V sequel… Balto 2: Wolf Quest.