Friday April 17, 1998
Make an appointment with your kids or borrow some children from your neighbor and see "Paulie," a perfect family movie with the intelligence, humor and hug-me moments to be a great first-date movie, too. Just remember to bring a hankie.
With a wonderful script by Laurie Craig and starring 14 Blue-Crown Conures with Bette Davis eyes, Charlie Chaplin waddles and E.B. White world views, "Paulie" is a classic quest movie: Bird meets girl, bird loses girl, bird travels across the continent to find girl. Setting the movie as a flashback with Paulie recounting his story--to Russian emigre janitor Misha (Tony Shalhoub) who discovers the bird locked in the dungeon of an animal research institute--provides all the explanation needed to make our hero credible. He has the loyalty of Lassie, the vocabulary of Mr. Ed and the knack for meeting people of Stuart Little.
But don't think of "Paulie" as an animal movie; it's a love story that asks the very human question: When should you speak up and when should you remain silent? Paulie learns to talk (in the voice of the busy Jay Mohr) as his human friend Marie tries to overcome her stutter. Marie couldn't talk, Dad couldn't listen and Mom couldn't cope, Paulie tells Misha. The father (fathers, cats and scientists don't fare well here) gets rid of Paulie anyway because he thinks Marie is getting too attached to him. His love for her is a debt that must be repaid.
Epic quest movies are episodic by nature, and Paulie's adventures include a stint in a pawn shop where he learns to sing "What's New, Pussycat?" and insult customers, and where he meets Ivy (Gena Rowlands), an artist who teaches him manners and how to fly. Ivy takes him home to Marie, but the family has moved west to Los Angeles, so off they go in Ivy's Winnebago.
Rowlands fills the screen with a grace and a humanity that teaches Paulie more than just to say "please." When she can no longer drive, Paulie stays with her. When she dies, Paulie recalls her lessons and--for the first time--flies on toward Los Angeles.
He arrives in East L.A., where he gets a steady gig singing backup in a taco-stand band trained by Ignacio (Cheech Marin). He plays Pip to the Gladys Knight of the fair Lupe, the prettiest parrot in L.A., who wins Paulie's heart by repeating his own declarations of affection. It's a great life until Benny (also Mohr) birdnaps Paulie and forces him into a life of crime in exchange for a promise to help him find Marie. This leads to a life sentence as a prisoner of conscience in the research institute in which Misha finds him.
The birds playing Paulie were selected and trained by Boone Narr, who trained the mice in DreamWorks' most successful movie to date, "Mouse Hunt." But Paulie has none of that film's violence or cynicism.
Yes, you can drop the kids at "Paulie" and see something a little more R, but you'd be encouraging Hollywood to keep dividing movies (and us) into silly for children, stupid for young teens, shocking for older teens and sexually dysfunctional for everyone else. And you'd be missing a chance to see what a family movie is supposed to be.
Paulie, 1998. PG, for brief mild language. DreamWorks Pictures presents a Mutual Film Co. production. Directed by John Roberts. Written by Laurie Craig. Produced by Mark Gordon, Gary Levinsohn, Allison Lyon Segan. Executive producer Ginny Nugent. Director of photography Tony Pierce-Roberts. Production designer Dennis Washington. Film editor Mary Zophres. Music by John Denney. Animals provided by Boones Animals for Hollywood Inc. Animal stunt coordinator Boone Narr. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Gena Rowlands as Ivy. Tony Shalhoub as Misha. Cheech Marin as Ignacio. Bruce Davidson as Dr. Reingold. Jay Mohr as Benny and Paulie.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times