One day on a Canadian lake, a cob (male swan) and a pen (female swan) are saved by a boy named Sam Beaver from a fox. Sam is allowed to watch the swans' cygnets (baby swans) hatch, and it is discovered that one of them is mute. Instead of chirping to greet him, the mute cygnet pulls Sam's shoelace. Awww. Thus begins an Odd Friendship between swan and boy.
The story focuses on the swan, named Louie, and his efforts to overcome his handicap. Sam takes Louie to school so the bird can learn to read and write, and Louie's father steals a brass trumpet to give his son a voice. Louie feels guilty about the theft, so at Sam's suggestion he takes several jobs across America to pay for the trumpet. Adventures are had by all.
Compare to E.B. White's more famous novel, Charlotte's Web.
This work provides examples of:
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Louie doesn't interact much with his swan peers in the novel. In the animated adaptation, he has a case of All of the Other Reindeer because his peers (sans his family and Serena) find him weird that he's mute.
- Adaptational Nice Guy: In the novel, Serena refuses to interact with Louie because of his disability, and Louie wins her over simply by revealing that he can play the trumpet. In the film, Serena is much more sympathetic to Louie and a jerkass rival named Boyd is added instead.
- All of the Other Reindeer: Due to Lost in Translation. Louie is mute, and Serena can't read, so his attempts to talk to her fall flat and she assumes he's not interested in her.
- Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: To a lesser extent. In the film a lot of swans have some additional color on their feathers besides white. For instance, Louie has yellow, his sisters have peach pink and green, and Boyd has bright red.
- Amplified Animal Aptitude: Louie and others. When his father breaks into a shop to steal the trumpet, he flies away feeling guilty for the crime.
- Contrived Coincidence: Serena just happens to get blown by storm all the way to the Philadelphia zoo.
- Disability Superpower: Because he is mute, Louie learns to read and write English, skills the other swans do not possess.
- Disney Death: Louie and his dad fly to the music store to pay for the stolen trumpet and smashed window. Unfortunately, the store owner thinks they're trying to steal from him and grabs a shot gun and fires it at Louie's dad, who falls the ground, wounded and seemingly dies. After the misunderstanding is cleared up, the music owner instantly regrets what he just did. However, as an ambulance arrives to carry Louie's dad away, they discover that he's unharmed, and Dad promptly revives! Turns out the bullet missed Louie's dad, and he simply fainted from trauma. The music store owner then decides to use the money to not only pay for the trumpet and the damages to his shop, but also to preserve all Trumpeter Swans.
- Distant Finale: Sam is 11 in the beginning and 20 by the end of the novel. Averted in the film, which ends with him still a kid.
- Fat Bastard: Monty, Louie's con-artist agent in the film, who takes advantage of Louie's skills and uses him for his own selfish gain.
- Feather Fingers: Played straight in the film adaptation, but averted in the novel, where Louie uses his foot instead. At one point he even asks Sam to cut the webbing between his toes so he can use the valves more easily — the narrative stresses that this is painless, though it does make his swimming stroke a bit weaker).
- Funny Animal Anatomy: The book doesn't exactly say how Louie, who has no lips, can play a trumpet (though it is at least mentioned that it takes him a while to figure out for himself).
- It's Hand Waved in the book as saying he uses his tongue and the softer parts of the bill. Swan tongues can be curled and have rough edges, though whether it could actually be curled enough to form a seal on the mouthpiece is probably something best not thought about too closely.
- Genius Bruiser: Not only is Louie pretty smart for an animal (being able to read and write English, not to mention figuring out and playing a musical instrument), but according to the novel, a trumpeter swan can swat you with the force of a baseball bat. (That's absolutely Truth in Television, though real Trumpeters rarely attack with their fragile wings, preferring to use their serrated bill. You do not want to get bitten by a Trumpeter). Louie doesn't hesitate to use every natural weapon at his disposal to defend Serena from the Philadelphia zookeepers (who want to amputate part of her wings and render her permanently flightless).
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the film, Louie holds a bottle and thinks "This pound water is kind of fizzy."
- Grudging "Thank You": Averted. Applegate is more than happy to be saved by a "stupid dirty bird". He still doesn't care for birds, though.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Allow yourself a free snicker when Serena hears Louie's trumpet and thinks "What a gay bird!"
- A somewhat more innocent example happens in-universe. Louie's father has to explain to him that he meant "mute" when he said "dumb," reassuring Louie that he doesn't regard his son as stupid.
- Large Ham: Louie's father in the animated adaptation—voiced by Jason Alexander.
- Lost in Translation: Louie initially tries to communicate with Serena with his chalk and slate. Unfortunately, Serena can't read.
- Meaningful Name: Louis plays a trumpet, like a certain other jazz musician. This is lampshaded in the book, when a boy says he'll name him Louie after said musician, only for the swan to write on his chalkboard "That actually is my name."
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Boyd's character plays up the All of the Other Reindeer aspect from the novel, as to be expected.
- Race Lift: In the book, Sam Beaver is described as having black hair and dark eyes like a Native American, though whether he has any actual Native American blood isn't mentioned. In the film, he's a generic brown-haired, blue-eyed white kid.
- Satellite Love Interest: We never learn anything about Serena other than that she wasn't interested in returning Louie's feelings for her until she saw how well he could play the trumpet.
- Seldom-Seen Species: A black-necked swan appears in the film as a minor character. Also qualifies as Misplaced Wildlife, since the species is only found in South America.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Occasionally Sam or another human character will stop and explain what a certain word means.
- Shout-Out: In the film, there are twin blonde pens who fawn over Boyd much like the Bimbettes fawn over Gaston.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: In the film, Serena prefers Nice Guy Louis over jerkass Boyd.
- Spiritual Successor: The book could be considered one to Charlotte's Web (though without the earlier book's heavier themes), while the film could be considered one to Happy Feet.
- Stealth Pun: Louie's species is a Trumpeter Swan, but due to his condition you could also say he's a "Mute" Swan.
- Swan Boats: Louis at one point gets a job on the real life Swan Boats in Boston.
- Talking Animal: Subverted with Louis, who can't talk, but can read and write. Played straight with all the other animals (at least when humans aren't around).
- The Voiceless: Louie of course. To help the audience understand how mute Louie thinks and feels, the animated adaptation has Louie "talking" through his thoughts—courtesy of Dee Bradley Baker.