An Immigration Story as Told by a Mouse

Have you ever talked to your children about how your family came to America? Do they know that their family may not have always lived here? Have you ever thought about how to have that conversation?

There is a children’s movie that is a great introduction to that conversation about how to tell the children in your family about the journey that their ancestors took…once upon a time.

30 years ago in November 1986, Amplin Entertainment released the children’s cartoon movie “Fievel: An American Tail”. This movie features a Russian-Jewish mouse and his family, the Mousekewitzes, and tells their immigration story of traveling to America to start a new life.

The Story

Set in 1885, “Fievel: An American Tail” is a story about a Russian-Jewish mouse and his family as they immigrate to America to start a better life. As told in the story, this better life is a promise of being safe from cats.

The family travels to Hamburg, Germany after their home in Russia is destroyed during an attack. They board a ship that will bring them to America.

During the trip, their ship is caught in a storm and Fievel is separated from his family.

The family arrives in New York and assumes that Fievel is lost forever as they continue on with their plan to start a new life.

However, Fievel is alive, lost and alone but has made it to New York. As he starts his own journey to find his family, he will meet many characters along the way. Some with the intent to help him to reconnect with his family and some that have their own agenda.

After the family is reunited, they join together with other mice on a mission to put cats on a boat to take them away.

Transforming the Movie into Reality

This story relates to many of the trials and tribulations of the immigrants who traveled from Europe to the America in the 1800 and 1900s. The immigrants were looking for a better life in terms of education, jobs, religious freedom and to possibly escape issues with the government.

Details of this movie can directly relate to actual people, activities and locations of the time.

A Few Examples
  • It wasn’t uncommon for a family member to pass away during the trip from Europe to America.
  • When people came to New York, they passed through an immigration center such as Ellis Island or Castle Garden. At one point, Fievel was taken to the immigration center as they expected his family to be there as well.
  • Fievel met a politician who tried looking through voting records to see if he could obtain the family’s address.
  • They weren’t alone. The family met other mice just like them with similar stories and the same hope of a new life in America.
  • Fievel is taken to an orphanage after it is discovered that he had been separated from his family. This happened often to children who had no family.
  • Hamburg, Germany was a large immigration port in the 1800s where many people left Europe for America.

While a child might not understand immigration unless it’s been introduced to them in school or talked about in the family, this movie plants that seed to start the conversation.

Telling a child that they are moving across the world, away from their friends and some or all of their family might sound unrealistic, crazy and scary but it was a real thing that people did. Having this cartoon representation breaks it down to a child’s level so they can start to comprehend that such a life changing event is possible and they are a direct result of that successful journey.

Use Fievel’s story to introduce immigration to the children in your family. Do you remember watching these movies?

Credits to the Movie Production Companies

“Fievel: An American Tail” is a series of five movies that are available on DVD, Blu-ray and VHS. The series was produced by Amblimation, Nelvana, and Universal Cartoon Studios.

  1. Fievel: An American Tail.
  2. An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.
  3. An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island.
  4. An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster.
  5. An American Tail: Fievel’s Gold Rush.