This popular duet was written for the Steven Spielberg-produced animated film An American Tail. In the movie, a family of mice from the Ukraine immigrates to the United States, but loses young Fievel along the way. One lonely night, Fievel (Phillip Glasser) and his sister Tanya (Betsy Cathcart), separated by a long distance, sing "Somewhere Out There" in the hopes of reuniting. Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram were enlisted to sing the pop version, a romantic ballad about two separated lovers who take comfort in the fact they are looking out at the same starry sky.
Film composer James Horner teamed up with songwriting duo Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil to write the tune. Horner and Mann composed the music, while Weil wrote the lyrics. Weil spoke of the experience during a 2014 interview on The Paul Leslie Hour: "At that time, which was the mid-'80s, animation was kind of dead. And we thought that this film would barely be seen because it was about a Jewish mouse. And so, we just loved the script and we had the opportunity to work with Steven Spielberg because he was executive producer. And so, we felt very free in writing the songs for this movie because we thought no one would be listening."
Ronstadt's regular producer Peter Asher also produced the duet, which proved to be a challenge. Asher explained in a 2018 Songfacts interview: "She and James Ingram, when we did 'Somewhere Out There,' never actually were in the studio at the same time, which is more common now but was a bit less common then. And getting it all to fit together, matching their vibratos and the last note and stuff like that, which again in Pro Tools would be two seconds, took quite a while because I had two separate takes of each of them separately. But, for reasons I can't quite remember, they weren't in town at the same time.
So, yeah, duets, you've got to figure out who sings what and all those obvious challenges and get two great vocals that fit together, ideally at the same time, but often not. I think she and Aaron [Neville] were together at the same time on 'Don't Know Much,' but certainly she and James Ingram on 'Somewhere Out There' were not."
The song won two Grammy awards at the 1988 ceremony: Song of the Year and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television. It was also nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, but lost to the Dirty Dancing hit "(I've Had) The Time of My Life."
The song also earned nominations for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, but lost both prizes to "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun.
The music video, filmed in New York City, finds Ronstadt and Ingram in separate rooms, drawing scenes from the movie as they sing.
This was used on the sitcom Designing Women in the 1990 episode "The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth Century: Part 2." It was also featured on the TV drama CSI: NY in the 2006 episode "Stealing Home."
The song was supposed to be called "The Mouse In The Moon." When Mann & Weil were brought onboard as songwriters, Weil asked to change the title.