EFL Movie Study Guide for:
An American Tail
from www.krigline.com www.krigline.com.cn
This charming Stephen
Spielberg cartoon tells the story of mice who immigrate from Russia to
America (in 1886, because of persecution from dangerous cats). Lured
by tales of unlimited opportunity and “no cats,” the Mouskewitz family (of
mice) sails to the USA. During the voyage, their son Fievel falls
overboard. Then, as they try to find each other in New York, they discover
the hardships of immigrant life (and lots of cats!); but don’t worry,
there’s a happy ending! (1986; Spielberg, Bluth, DeLuise, Kahn, Plummer;
Universal; cartoon, comedy, history; G; 80 min)
starting in Russia, then on a ship from Germany to New York (NY), and
finally in New York City.
Note 1: At this time in history, US
immigration officials sometimes changed people’s names when they arrived in
the US, often because they could not pronounce or spell the correct name.
(See “Mousekewitz” under “People and proper nouns” below; also see dialog 5)
Note 2: To show that Gussie (a rich NY
mouse) speak with a strange accent, the subtitles show her words spelled
wrong (e.g., “wally” instead of “rally”; “wewease” instead of “release”;
“get some sweep (sleep)”; “we have a wong (long) day ahead”).
This will make it hard for English-learners to understand her, but most of
the time “w” is supposed to be an “r” or “l”—remember that and you will
understand a lot of her talk.
People and proper nouns:
Mousekewitz: the main family in this story, including Fievel/Fillie (the boy
and central figure), Tanya/Tilly, Mama and Papa.
Bridget: a cute, young mouse who represents idealists who say that “if we
work together, we can change things for the better”
Gussie Mausheimer: a fat lady-mouse, who represents the rich mice in NY (see
Hannukah (also spelled Hanukah or Chanukah): an eight-day Jewish holiday,
the “festival of lights,” that normally falls in December
Henri: a French pigeon (bird) who claims to be the designer of the Statue of
Liberty (which was a gift from France, completed in 1886)
Honest John: an Irish mouse, often drunk, who represents dishonest
politicians and the poor/common mice in NY (in contrast to Gussie Mausheimer)
Minsk: a city in Russia
NY: New York
Tiger: a strange cat who ends up being Fievel’s friend
Tony: a young mouse who helps Fievel in NY
Warren T. Rat: a cat, disguised as a rat, who represents “organized
crime”—i.e., he claims that if the mice pay him, then the cats will not hurt
them (his accountant is a cricket named “Digit”)
duo (we’re a duo): a pair; two people or
things that are similar and belong together
fairy tale: a popular story that is told to
children, featuring magical places and creatures, and normally also
promoting a moral value (like courage or hope)
fake: not real but looking real, esp. used to
describe inexpensive copies of things
fella: alternate spelling of “fellow”; in
common “street” language, “the right fella” means “the correct person”
generation: people of the same age, or the
period of time between someone’s birth and the birth of his/her children
(three generations would include you, your father, and your grandfather)
ghost votes: long ago, dishonest politicians
voted for themselves under the names of people who were dead
to immigrate: when a person leaves his/her
home country to settle, and legally becomes a citizen of another country
orphan: someone without mother or father
paw: the “hand” of an animal like a dog or
persecution: being treated badly (i.e., worse
than those around you) because of your religious or ethnic background, your
political views, etc.
pier: a platform next to a ship, where people
can get on and off (or go fishing, handle goods, etc.)
rumor: sth (like information) that is passed
from one person to another and which may or may not be true (流言?)
to suffocate=to choke; to be unable to
breathe because of lack of air, too much smoke, etc.
sweat shop: a factory (often for making
clothes) where workers (often immigrants or the poor) were overworked and
underpaid, and were generally treated as slaves. (see dialog 9)
voyage: a trip by ship
wake [n]: an informal time before or after
some funerals, when people drink and talk about the dead person (often in a
happy way, not sad)
Sayings or phrases
“ante up”: poker term that is also used in
normal English, meaning “to pay an amount/fee so that you can continue doing
this” (e.g., “To use this mobile phone, you have to ante up a monthly
“to be in the doghouse”: means that you know
someone is upset or angry with you
(often a family member) because of
something you did or failed to do
e pluribus unum:
the official motto of the USA (printed on money and official seals); from
Latin, meaning “one out of many”
“look like something the cat dragged in”:
informal when someone enters a room, indicating that this person looks bad,
untidy, very tired, etc. (like a dead mouse that your cat brought into your
“Put it there”: said when holding out your
hand; an informal way to say “glad to meet you; let’s shake hands”
“registered to vote”: in America, any adult
citizen can vote, but they must complete a registration form that asks for
basic information such as address and ID number. Where you “register”
determines whether or not you can vote in local elections (every “registered
voter” can vote in national elections)
“that has got to go”: informal, meaning “that
must be changed or thrown away”
“the cat’s out of the bag”: the secret is no
longer a secret (esp. if this is the result of an accident)
“would give his right/left feet/arm”: really
wants to do something, even if doing it would be very costly
1. The Mousekewitz family was afraid of cats.
Tell your partner something you are (or used to be) afraid of. How do people
overcome their fears?
2. The Statue of Liberty is one of the
world’s best known sculptures. Gussie asked “What does it stand for?” How
would you answer that question; what does it mean to you? If
you know anything about the statue or its history, talk about it.
3. Most Americans say that the Statue of
Liberty proudly stands for the thing Americans value the most: freedom. Talk
about a statue, monument, place or document that is similar in your country.
If you can’t think of one, at least talk about the idea or value that people
in your country cherish the most.
4. What were some of the rumors that
Papa Mousekewitz had heard about America (see dialog 1)? Many
English-learners dream of going to America to study. Tell your partner
something you “have heard” about America; do you still think it is true? Why
or why not?
5. When the mice worked together, they were
able to do something about their problems. Tell about a problem (in your
life or society) that might get solved if lots of people worked together.
6. Henri’s advice
“never say never” and "hope for the best, work for the rest." Choose one and
tell your partner if you think this is good advice. (Why or why not?) Ask
your partner to comment on the other saying.
Sentences/dialogs from the movie:
sections are particularly important.
1. Mama Mousekewitz: Tanya! Fievel! Will you stop that twirling, twirling!
I mean it!
Papa Mousekewitz (playing his violin): But Mama, it's Hannukah.
Mama: For you, every night is Hannukah.
(Papa gives out Hannukah presents)
Papa: For Tanya, a new papushka. Happy Hannukah.
Tanya: Oh, Papa, thank you.
Mama: You have only one parent?
Tanya: Thank you, Mama.
Papa: And for you, Fievel, a new hat. And not just any new hat. A new
hat that has been in the family for three generations. It belonged to
me, my father, and my father's father, and now it belongs to you. Happy
Fievel: It's too big.
Mama: You'll grow.
Papa (laughing): Did I ever tell you about the
giant mouse of Minsk?
Tanya: No! Was it anything like the mouse with
long hair that the prince climbed up?
Papa: No. This mouse, the mouse of Minsk, was
tall as a tree. His tail was a mile long. He was so big, he frightened all
Mama: Shhh! Don’t say that word. Talk about
Mama: Another fairy tale.
Papa: America! What a place! In America, there
are mouse holes in every wall.
Mama: Who says?
Papa: Everyone. In America, there are bread
crumbs on every floor.
Mama: You're talking nonsense!
Papa: In America, you can say anything you want,
but most important - and this I know for a fact - in America, there are no
Papa: [whispering] In America... there are no...
Mama: Shhh! They'll hear you.
Papa: How could they hear us?
(Horses carrying angry riders approach—i.e., the Cossacks, or
horse-riding Russian soldiers; followed by mean/vicious cats. They destroy
the Mousekewitz home.)
2. (We see the Mousekewitz family getting on a ship in Hamburg, Germany.
They are immigrating to America, as did millions of Europeans between
1870 and 1900. Fievel keeps stopping to ask questions, which holds up the
Fievel: Look, Papa! Smoke! Is the boat on fire?
Papa: No! Keep walking!
Fievel: I just wanted to see.
Papa: Fievel, this is the last time I take you to America.
Fievel (turning back and waving): Goodbye!
Seagull #2: Auf wiedersehen. (Goodbye in German)
Seagull #1: I have a cousin in America.
Seagull #2: Ha. [spits] You and everybody else. (They both laugh.)
3. Papa: Ah, so, Mr Curious, you've discovered the herring.
Fievel: Herring? I thought they were fish.
Papa: But Fievel, herring are fish.
Papa: Oh, yes. In the ocean, there are all kinds of fish, and herring
is one of them.
Fievel: All kinds?
Papa: Yes. Tiny fishes, not so tiny fishes, fishes as big as this
Fievel: Wow! Let's go up and see the fish.
Papa: Not now. Your mother’s worried. (But Fievel runs away
4. Papa: Won't it be nice to get to America, where we don't have to worry
about cats anymore? There are no cats in America. But back home in Mother
[verses from the song “There are no cats in America”]
Papa: Our family was traveling through the snow to Minsk / Suddenly
Papa saw those huge paw prints / When I heard him screaming I fainted
dead away / And I woke up an orphan... Oy vey!
Everyone: But there are no cats in America, and the streets are paved
with cheese! There are no cats in America, so set your mind at ease!
Italian Mouse: Ma la cosa terrible que esiste in la patria mia!
If you think things were bad in Russia, you should have seen things in my
[singing] The times were hard in Sicily, we had no provolone [a type
of cheese] / The Don [boss], he was a tabby [a type of cat], with a taste
for my brother Tony / When mamma went to plead for him, the Don said he
would see her / We found her rosary on the ground... Poor mamma mia!
Irish Mouse: That's sad, yes, but sadder still...
[singing] When I was but a lad, I lost my true love fair / A calico [a
type of cat] he caught us by surprise / In a flash of teeth and fur / Her
tail was all he left of her / 'Neath the heather is where my tirra-lirra
Everyone: But there are no cats in America, and the streets are paved
with cheese! There are no cats in America; that’s why we sail these seas!
(Then a terrible storm begins; Fievel goes on deck to “see the fish”
but he is washed overboard.)
5. [the immigrants are getting off the ship in New
Female Immigrant: America!
Male Immigrant: No, no, New York.
Immigration clerk: [What is your] Name?
Male Immigrant: Brovoloti Provalinsky.
Clerk: Okay, Mr... Smith.
Mouse clerk: Family Mousekewitz. How many?
Papa: Five. Oh (sadly), I mean four.
Tanya: Papa, why did they change my name to
6. (Fievel is inside a bottle, which washes up on an island in New York
Henri: Qu'est-ce que c'est? (What is this? in French) A
little immigrant. Now they are coming by bottle! Where is your papa, your
Fievel: I don't know. They were on a boat to America.
Henri: Then you are in luck, my little immigrant. This is America.
Fievel: America. But I thought it was bigger.
Henri: It is bigger. All of that is also America. This is just an
island at the doorway, where I, Henri Le Pigeon, am putting up my Statue of
(Henri gives Fievel a bath)
Henri: I know, my little immigrant. You want to
find your family. And you will.
Fievel: But how? It’s so far away, and it's so
big. I'll never find them anyway.
Henri: Je m-excuse, pardon… but, did you
say “never”? So young, and you have lost hope! This is America, the place to
find hope! If you give up, you will never find your family. So never say
7. Henri: Now, are you going to find your family?
Henri: Chantal! Take my little friend to immigration. You will find
your family there. Everyone goes through immigration. I would take you there
myself, but then I would never finish my statue.
Fievel: Henri, you said never!
Henri: Oh, so I did!
8. Digit (a cockroach): Would you please put out that filthy thing? I'm
suffocating down here!
Warren T. Rat: You don't like it? Hey, you know you're not the only
cockroach in New York City. There are millions of roaches who’d give
their left feet (i.e., would love) to work for Warren T. Rat.
Digit: Good! Fire me! I'm fed up with that filthy smoke! And this
pocket! I've seen kitchen stoves cleaner than this place! Look at my suit!
9. Digit (as Fievel drops through his roof): Hey, look boss. A kid. Moe
can always use an extra kid at 50 cents a day.
Warren T. Rat: Very interesting. Ahem. Well, well, well! Rat’s the
name, Warren T. Rat. What can I do you for, kid?
Fievel: I'm looking for my family.
Warren T. Rat: You've come to the right fella, kid. I know
exactly where they are. Come with me.
Fievel: But Henri said I’d find them here.
Warren T. Rat: Have it your way, kid. But remember what Shakespeare
said, and I quote (ahem): "Opportunity knocks but... uh, but...”
Digit: Psst! Once.
Warren T. Rat: "... but-but once. Taken at the tide, t'will lead to
fortune. If denied, t'will never return."
Fievel: Do you really know where my family is?
Warren T. Rat: Heh heh. Trust me. Hey, trust me.
(Mr. Rat takes Fievel to a “sweat shop”—a place where
unsuspecting immigrants often got their first job, where they were treated
more-or-less like slaves. The one who introduced them to the job—in this
case, Mr. Rat—got a part of their very small salary. The factory owner
charged a lot of “rent” for a place to stay, and often claimed that because
they owed “rent” they were not free to leave the building. These places were
illegal, but the immigrants didn’t understand the situation, often because
they couldn’t speak English well.)
10. Tony: Tony Toponi's the name. Put it there,
Fievel: Fievel. Fievel Mousekewitz.
Tony: Fievel? Ooh, that name's got to go!
Hey, I’ll tell you what--Fillie!
Tony: Yeah, fits you perfect.
(Fievel ties sheets together, and escapes
through the window)
11. (Later, Fievel and Tony run into each other again.)
Tony: Fillie! I’ve been looking all over for you. (Laughing because
Fievel is wet and dirty) Pardon the expression, but you look like
something the cat dragged in, you know? Are you all right? Listen, [if]
you go running off like that, you’re going to get yourself seriously lost.
Stick with me, ok? [Fievel holds on tightly to Tony's arm] Hey, hey, hey!
What, are we engaged or something?
12. Bridget: This is America! Don’t be afraid. Are you going to let those
cats push you around [bully you]? Are we going to stand by and let cats
wreck our homes, our businesses and our lives? If we all got together, we
could do something about the cats.
Tony [to himself, acting like he’s in love with Bridget]: Yeah. We
should all get together.
Bridget: This is America. We have free speech! We can say "cat" here!
Cat, cat, cat, and double-cat!
Neighbors: Shh! Not so loud!
(After a “scrap”—i.e., fight—with some cats, Bridget takes Fievel to
“Honest John,” hoping that he will know where Fievel’s family is. After they
leave, Fievel’s family pops out of a shoe; once again, they were near each
other without knowing it.)
Mama: Well, Mr. “There-are-no-WHATS-in-America”? Hmm?
Papa [laughs nervously]: Cats. Ha, ha.
13. [the sign says: A Grand Wake for Mickey O’Hare]
Honest John: It’s me (i.e., my) third wake today, and I’m not
Mouse Cop: We've got to do something about them cats.
Honest John: Besides paying Warren T. Rat for no protection. [He walks
over to the dead mouse.] Poor lad. So young. He never had a chance to vote.
Well, he'll vote from now on. I'll see to that. [Writes Mickey's name in a
notebook under "Ghost Votes." Then Gussie Mausheimer enters the
Gussie: Honest John.
Tony: Ooey, the richest and most powerful mouse in New York. What’s
she doing slumming in this part of town?
Gussie [shocked by the corpse]: There’s a dead mouse on that table.
Honest John: It’s an Irish custom, Gussie. The cats got him today.
Gussie: Pwecisely (precisely) why I am
here to see you.
Honest John: Would you care for a wee drop of
the creature? [i.e., a drink of alcohol]
Gussie: Today was the worst ever. Those cats
are killing everyone. They don't even know the difference between wich (rich)
and poor. The wretches!
Honest John: Shameful!
Gussie: As you know, I’ve dedicated my life to
helping those wess (less) fortunate than myself—that’s everyone. And
now I want you to help me. We must have a wawwy (rally).
Honest John: A wawwy? What's a wawwy?
Gussie: You know, a warge gathewing of mice for
a weason. (A large gathering of mice for a reason.)
Honest John: Oh, a rally!
Gussie: That's what I said, a wawwy. Tomorrow at Mausheimer Park, we
will all decide what to do. I’ll bring the uptown mice. You bring the mice
Honest John: Madam, you can count on Honest John.
Bridget: At last, we’re all getting together about the cats. [She then
remembers Fievel’s lost family.] Honest John, he's lost his family. By any
chance, do you know the Mousekewitzes?
Honest John: Oh... Hmm. Are they registered to vote?
Bridget: They just got off the boat.
Honest John: Ahem. Sorry, don't know them yet.
14. Gussie (at the rally): Money isn't everything. I
know because I have money, and I have everything. But what are they worth
without fweedom (freedom)?
Honest John: Hear, hear!
Gussie: Why did we come here to America? For
fweedom! Why are they building that statue? What does it stand for? Fweedom!
So, what do we want?
Gussie: Wight (right). Fweedom from cats.
And because this is America, we can do something about them!
Man: What can we do? They’re bigger than us.
Gussie: Not if we all work together. What are
you afwaid (afraid) of? Are we men, or are we mice?
Honest John: Mice! Mice, indeed, and proud of
Gussie: So what are we going to do about those
cats? Well, any ideas? [Fievel whispers an idea to Gussie, about creating a
Giant Mouse of Minsk to scare the cats away.] I think this wittle (little)
fellow has got something here. We have a pwan (plan)! E
15. Tony: Holy spumoni! We should have been at the pier an hour ago!
Fievel: The pier? That’s a scary place!
Tony: I promised Bridget we’d be on time.
Fievel (as Tony runs ahead, faster than he can run): Wait for me!
Tony: Geez Louise! Am I in the doghouse! Pick ‘em up! Why
didn't you tell me what time it was, huh?
Fievel: But Tony, I can't tell time. Slow down… Wait!! [Tony runs off,
and Fievel turns aside because he hears a violin and thinks it is his dad;
but it is Warren T. Rat.]
16. [Street cats are playing poker. Tiger is the biggest cat.]
Cat 1. All right, ante up, boys.
Tiger: I got it! I got it! I got it! Rummy!
Cat 2: Tiger, for the hundredth time, we're playing poker.
Tiger (embarrassed): I knew that; I knew that. But who can concentrate
with all that noise?
Cat 3: Hey, Tiger. When the boss plays, it’s culture.
Warren T. Rat: “If music be the food of love, play on, McDuff, play
Digit: I don't know which is worse, the music or the Shakespeare?
Warren T. Rat [playing the violin]: Rats! This nose, this nose keeps
getting in the way (interfering).
Digit: You could stop playing.
Warren T. Rat: That's funny. I've never known a cockroach with good
taste, but I've known plenty that taste good.
Digit [nervous]: Heh, heh. Play, play, play.
[Warren takes off a fake nose and ears, so we see he’s actually
a cat. Fievel sees it too, from behind the mirror]
Fievel: Warren T.!
Warren T. Rat [he sees Fievel]: You!
Fievel: You're not a Rat, you're a Cat!
Warren T. Rat: How did you get in here? Come here, you little...
[Warren grabs Fievel, but Fievel bites him and runs off] Gentlemen, cat's
out of the bag. Get me that mouse!
17. Tiger (more or less talking to himself as he
starts to guard Fievel): On your guard (be alert), Tiger. Don't make
any funny moves, 'cause I'm crafty and I'm quick. I have the instincts of a
cat. What am I saying? I am a cat. [Fievel starts to cry] Hey, don’t
start that. I didn’t mean to scare you that much. It’s ok, little buddy. I’m
your friend…. What are you crying for?
Fievel: I can’t get out of here, and I have to,
so I can find my family.
Tiger: You lost your family? Oh, no. That's
terrible. You know, I lost my family, too. Years ago, I mean. [Starts
sobbing] Eight brothers. Ten sisters. Three fathers.
Fievel: Don’t cry. You’ll find them.
Tiger: Do you really think so? Gee, you’re nice.
My name is Tiger. What’s yours?
Fievel: Fievel. Fievel Mousekewitz.
Tiger: Listen, I like mice. [Fievel cries again]
Oh, no. Not like that. I mean, I don't eat red meat at all. I'm a
vegetarian. Oh, a little fish now and then, but what I really like is some
nice... shh... broccoli.
Fievel: You know, I thought all cats were
supposed to be mean.
Tiger: Mean? I am mean! (Grrrrr) Aw, what’s the
use… I like butterflies with big, golden wings, and blue and green tips.
Fievel: Me too!
Tiger: I like Swiss cheese ice cream.
Fievel: Me too! Me too!
Tiger: You too, too? Wait a minute. What's your
Fievel: Um, the Brothers Karamousov.
Tiger [laughing]: The Brothers... I can't
believe it! [starts to sing] I can tell we’ve got an awful lot in common…
18. Warren T. Rat: Tiger, how did he get away?
Tiger: He overpowered me.
Warren T. Rat: You're fired.
Tiger: Good. I’m glad. I never liked you, and besides, your music
[The cats chase Fievel, who runs to the pier. But it is too
early to “release the secret weapon”…]
19. Gussie (as mice are throwing things at the cats): Hold your fire. It’s
that rat: Warren T.
Fievel: He’s not a rat, He’s a cat. He’s their boss.
Warren T. Rat: Pay no attention to that mouse. Just throw down all
your money, and that kid. And I will personally convince these cats to leave
Tony: Oh, yeah? [knocks off Warren's fake nose with his slingshot]
[the crowd murmurs]
Warren T. Rat: Disregard the nose. What's in a nose? “A nose by any
other name would smell as sweet...“
[Tony knocks off Warren's fake ears]
Crowd: Great whiskers! He's a cat!
Warren T. Rat: Hey, hey, hey! Wait a minute. Who are you gonna
believe? Me or your own eyes?
20. Gussie [as the ship horn blows, and just after Honest John stops the
“secret weapon” from being released too soon]: Rewease (release) the
21. Warren T. Rat: Don't worry, gentlemen. There are plenty of mice in Hong
Digit: Oh my! I’ll have to learn to calculate in Chinese. [starts
counting in Chinese]
Warren T. Rat: Hey, I wonder how you say "trust me" in Chinese.
22. Papa: You are calling for a Fillie Mousekewitz, right? Tell my daugther
his name is Fillie and not Fievel.
Tony: His name's Fillie.
Papa: You see?
Tony: ...and Fievel.
Papa: And Fievel... and Fievel?
Papa: No, there are many Fievel Mouskewitzes in New York, maybe
thousands! It could still be another Fievel Mousekewitz.
Mama: No, Papa. Look. [Holds up Fievel's hat]
23. Orphan #1: Hey, what's your story?
Fievel: I've been looking for my family.
Orphan #2: Hey, fellas! He's looking for his family.
Orphans [Teasing]: He's looking for his family!
Orphan #3: I stopped that a long time ago.
Orphan #2: At least you know who they are.
Orphan #1: Besides, why are you looking for them? They should be
Orphans: ...for you!
Orphan #3: They don't care. Forget 'em.
Fievel [Angry]: You're right! They don't care, and if they did, they
would have found me! Well, if they don't care, I don't care! I don’t care if
I never see them again!
Orphan #2: Yeah! You're one of us now!
Orphan #1: Here. Make yourself a bed. [They toss hay over Fievel]
Fievel: [Crying] I'll never find them again anyway. Never. Never.
Never. This is my home now.
STOP reading here if you want to be surprised at how
the film ends.
24. [Fievel’s family and friends are looking for him, riding on Tiger]
Gussie: I never dreamt this morning I'd be riding a fewine (feline).
Tiger [laughs]: A fewine?
Gussie: A cat!
Tiger: I knew that, I knew that.
Gussie [to Papa, regarding his violin]: Keep playing! We’ll find him.
[Eventually, Fievel hears them, and they are reunited, which makes everyone
Gussie: What's come over me? I'm hugging a cat!
Tiger: I’ve never been so happy in my life. I have friends; lots of
little tiny friends.
Tanya: Fievel, I knew you were alive!
Mama: Oh, my little boy, back from the dead. America, what a place!
Papa: My Fievel. I thought I would never see you again.
Fievel: Never say never, Papa.
Papa: Oh, I nearly forgot. Here, Fievel, your hat. [the hat drops as
before; Fievel adjusts the hat with his ears]
Mama: The hat, it fits!
Papa: My son! Now, you are a mouse.
25. [Henri and other birds are carrying Fievel and the others to see the
Henri: My statue is finished. Wait till you see her. She is beautiful!
Papa: Mama, look! Don't be afraid to open your eyes! Look what you're
missing! You're missing everything!
Mama: Papa, when we land, I'll look.
Fievel: Oh, Henri, she’s so beautiful! Henri, what's that over there?
Henri: Oh, that is more America.
Fievel: Can we go see it?
Henri: You will, my little American. Ha, ha! Someday, you will.
(Note: indeed, he does! Fievel and his family are in four more