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Film: Paulie

Paulie is a 1998 family film about a sapient parrot, more accurately a blue-crowned conure. The film was directed by John Roberts, previously known for such films as "This Boy's Story"(1992) and "War Of The Buttons" (1994). The main stars were Jay Mohr, Tony Shalhoub, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Buddy Hackett, Gena Rowlands, Cheech Marin, Tia Texada, Bruce Davison, and Trini Alvarado.

The film starts by featuring Misha Belenkoff (Shalhoub) in his first night as the janitor at an animal testing lab. He used to be a literature teacher in Russia, but has been reduced to menial jobs after immigrating to the United States. His curiosity is piqued by a lone parrot, kept in isolation in the basement. He soon realizes that that parrot can do more than mimic sounds: he sings and talks, but only when away from observers. He gets the parrot to speak to him, but Paulie (Mohr) refuses to speak or perform for anyone else.

He eventually gets Paulie talking about his life story. Most of the rest of the narrative is told in flashbacks. His earliest memories find him as the pet of 5-year old Marie Alweather (Eisenberg). Marie is a stutterer. Her worried parents are pressuring Marie to start speaking properly. By observing the lessons, Paulie learns the meaning of words and how to construct complex sentences. He is then able to help Marie learn without pressure. Her stories about speaking to her parrot convince her father that Marie is unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. He deals with this by selling the bird.

The next few years of Paulie's life are not depicted. He eventually finds himself at the pawnshop of the sarcastic Artie (Hackett). The films proceeds to follow Paulie's life under later owners and his efforts to locate Marie. The first such owner is the aging artist Ivy (Rowlands). She teaches him a lot about life and putting things into perspective, but her health eventually takes a turn for the worst. The next owner is Ignacio (Marin), proud owner of a taco stand, entertainer and owner of trained parrots. Paulie learns to perform for an audience and falls for Lupe (Texada), a female conure. A misadventure lands him at the hands of petty criminal Benny (Mohr) and his girlfriend Ruby (Texada). They teach him the value of money and how to steal for them. Stealing from wallets and ATM machines proves easy, but his first attempt at burglary gets him captured.

He ends up at the institute. Dr. Reingold (Davison) promises to help him, but sees him more as a meal ticket. Paulie stops being so trusting and refuses to cooperate. This being the reason for his long isolation. Back to the present, Misha decides to help Paulie escape and find Marie. To their surprise, decades have passed. They find an adult Marie (Alvarado), who is, regardless, happy to get her companion back.

The film was not much of a commercial hit. It earned an estimated $26,875,268 at the United States market, only the 69th most successful film of its year, but it at least covered its own budget. Critically it performed fairly well. It won a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for Best Children's Feature Film. Cheech Marin and Trini Alvarado were nominated for ALMA (American Latino Media Arts Award) awards. Marin lost to Antonio Banderas of The Mask of Zorro. Alvarado lost to Jennifer Lopez of Out of Sight. Hallie Kate Eisenberg was nominated for a Young Artist Awards. She lost to Mae Whitman of Hope Floats. The film received mostly positive reviews, praised for its "smart, emotional storytelling" and solid acting. On the other hand, the depictions of scientists "as vicious, clueless, animal-hating monsters" was dismissed as extremely stereotypical. Other critics pointed to its "labored plotting and heavy-handed morality" as the main faults of the film.


This film provides examples of:

  • A Boy and His X: A girl and her blue-crowned conure.
  • Acrophobic Bird: Both Marie and Ivy spend time trying to teach Paulie to fly. He first has to overcome his fear of heights.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: Paulie is constantly able to speak, learn new skills and form plans. He is surprised that the other parrots seem unable to do so, including his beloved Lupe.
  • Animal Testing: The lab. Though what the tests involve remains unclear.
  • Character Title
  • Cool Pet: A pet that can help you with your language skills, act as a seeing dog (for Ivy), sing and dance. No wonder Paulie is loved by his various owners.
  • Irony: Marie decides to teach Paulie how to fly in case they're ever separated. The attempt leads to her being injured after falling off the roof, and her father decides to send Paulie away.
  • Karma Houdini: Benny. He abducts Paulie from Ignacio, who he was geuninely happy living with, trains Paulie into becoming a thief, and when Paulie is caught while they try to rob a house, Benny escapes and is never seen again.
  • Missing Trailer Scene:
    • The film was marketed as a zany comedy and most trailers included a scene where the parrot flies next to another parrot and quips, "Saaay, do you realize we're both naked?" Again, it's never said in the movie.
    • Another scene heavily run in the trailers had a scientist holding up a card for Paulie and saying "What is this?" Paulie responds "It's a flash card, you idiot!". It wasn't in the actual film.
  • Never Say "Die": Ivy. Her death isn't shown on screen - instead we see a shot of an ambulance outside her house while Paulie's narration states that "the cat got her".
  • Outlaw Couple: Benny and Ruby.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Paulie is a talking bird; the catch is that every other parrot in the movie isn't, and most humans have difficulty believing that Paulie is.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Seldom Seen Species: Blue-crowned conures are popular pets, but they are not that often depicted in fiction. Reportedly: "The most famous fictional Blue-crowned Conure is the title character in the 1998 movie Paulie. The movie used 14 birds to play the role of the talking parrot and caused a surge in the popularity of Blue-crowned Conures as pets."
  • She Is All Grown Up: Paulie has trouble realizing that his little Marie has grown into a woman. However this comes as a pleasant surprise to Misha, who is obviously attracted to her.
  • Sliding Scale of Animal Communication: Level 7. Paulie can freely talk with people, but seems to be the only member of his species able to do so.
  • Talking Animal: Paulie. He is able to speak and think, but remains a pet.
  • Tropey Come Home: Played with. Paulie has spent decades trying to locate Marie. How she spent the missing time is not covered. She just accepts that her pet returned.
  • Trust Password: The adult Marie proves her identity to a skeptical Paulie by singing a song she used to sing with him as a child.
  • Worthless Foreign Degree: Mentioned above, Belenkoff used to be a literature teacher in Russia, but reduced to a Janitor in the US.
Patch AdamsFilms of the 1990sPecker
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alternative title(s): Paulie
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