Steven Spielberg, the producer of An American Tail, invited songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to collaborate with James Horner on four songs for the film's soundtrack, to be completed in a four-week timeframe. The composers "felt no pressure to come up with a radio-friendly hit" and were surprised when Spielberg felt "Somewhere Out There" had Top 40 hit potential and recruited world-renowned recording artists, Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, to record a pop version of the song for the film's closing credits. In the main body of the film, "Somewhere Out There" was performed by Phillip Glasser and Betsy Cathcart in the characters of the anthropomorphic mice Fievel and Tanya Mousekewitz.
Produced by Ronstadt's regular producer Peter Asher, the single release of the Ronstadt/Ingram track made its debut at #31 on the Adult Contemporary chart in Billboard dated 15 November 1986, crossing over to the Billboard Hot 100 dated 20 December 1986 with a #83 debut. In January 1987 "Somewhere Out There" returned Ronstadt to the Top 40 after a four-year absence to eventually peak at #2 that March. The song was kept from the top spot by "Jacob's Ladder" by Huey Lewis and the News. One of the last commercially released 45 RPM singles to be certified Gold for United States sales of over one million copies, "Somewhere Out There" was also a major UK hit (peaking at #8), marking Ronstadt's first of three appearances in the UK Top 10.
The music video for the song was directed, produced and edited by Jeffrey Abelson. It was filmed in New York City and features Ronstadt and Ingram, in two separate rooms, sitting at their desks, drawing and coloring scenes from the movie. They both look out the windows, in the same manner as Fievel and Tanya in the film. Clips from the movie appear throughout the video.
The lyrics of "Somewhere Out There" convey the love felt by two people separated by vast distances, but cheered by the belief that their love will eventually reunite them to be with each other once again. In the original theatrical production, the fictional characters singing "Somewhere Out There", Fievel and Tanya Mousekewitz, are brother and sister, and the love they share is described as general. However, in the more popular single version of the song, the love is described as more romantic.
In the spring of 1987, singer Liza Minnelli performed, in the words of music critic Stephen Holden of The New York Times, "a stunning rendition" of the song at Carnegie Hall for her three-week concert engagement at the historic music venue. The concert was recorded by Telarc Records and released in late 1987.
Barry Mann himself covered the song in his album “Soul & Inspiration”, released September 21, 1999, through Atlantic Record Corp.
In the 2009 episode of NBC's Community, the characters Troy and Abed go on a chase for their class mouse rat who gets loose. In this scene towards the end of the episode, the two characters sing the song "Somewhere out there".