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Who knows what the caged bird feels inside?
If you ask him kind, he may speak his mind.
Little Paulie once was a speaking guide
For his dear Marie, who was too tongue-tied,
But her parents sent him away confined.
He refused to fly, though he missed her so,
And was passed along to and fro.
When old Ivy purchased this garrulous bird,
She taught him manners and served his quest
To find Marie, though her sight was blurred,
And he served her too with his every word
Till his search compelled him to soar out west.
Though his owners changed while he still was free,
He dreamed of his dear Marie.
Eventually found by an institute,
Paulie found that speech was a gift and curse,
For a wrong word led to a new dispute
That resigned the bird to a dark cage, mute…
Till at last there arrived one glad to converse,
And his aid allowed him again to roam.
The caged bird found his home.

Paulie is yet another example of the unique power of the “Meet ‘em and Move On” sub-genre. The genre can apply to animals just as much as people, and following Paulie on his cross-country trek is like watching Forrest Gump as a parrot.  This was yet another Childhood Tearjerker that tugged at my callow heartstrings from beginning to end. Told mostly in flashback, Paulie’s story depicts how he learned from and touched each of his previous owners, both positively and negatively, and how the unique property of speech can indeed be a double-edged sword.

The cast is made up mostly of secondary character actors, such as Tony Shalhoub as Russian janitor and listener Misha Belenkoff, Cheech Marin as Hispanic parrot trainer Ignacio, Hallie Eisenberg (Jesse’s sister; funny how he played a parrot in Rio) as young Marie, Bruce Davison (Senator Kelly from X-Men) as guileful Dr. Reingold, and Jay Mohr as both small-time crook Benny and the titular conure himself. Interestingly, Bill Cobbs shows Misha around the lab early on, a scene reminiscent of the beginning of Night at the Museum, in which Cobbs again played an aged night watchman. Gena Rowlands steals the film’s middle section with her mannerly role as Ivy. Paulie’s interactions with her and Marie are undeniably sweet, and even when he’s sidetracked or indulges in a “fowl mouth,” we’re always rooting for him to reach his beloved owner, like a modern-day Lassie.

Many films have featured lovable animal protagonists, ranging from dogs, cats, pigs, horses, and even mice, but birds are much harder to develop a connection with than mammals. With both real birds and an occasional puppet, Paulie infuses such personality into the little green parrot, naïve yet wise-cracking, innocent yet smart aleck, that he truly seems like a person. His situation in the institute even touches upon the unfairness of misusing a sentient animal, if such a creature were ever to emerge. I’m more of a cat person, but if any film could make me consider a bird as a pet, it’s Paulie.

Best line: (Paulie, as Misha is urging him to explain his circumstances) “It’s a long story.”  (Misha) “I’m Russian. I like long stories!”

Rank: 56 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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