Paulie was released in 1998.
It’s hard for me not to get misty-eyed thinking about Paulie. This 1998 film about a talking blue-crowned conure and his journey to find his owner hits very close to home for me. Like Paulie’s owner, Marie, I was given a bird at a very young age. Twenty years later, I still have that cockatiel, named Pepper. Watching Marie and Paulie together is always going to feel a little like watching myself and Pepper together. But though I may view the film through a nostalgic lens, Paulie is a solid film that should be in any bird lover’s collection.
Paulie becomes separated from his young owner and travels across the nation with the help of several individuals to reach her. Each person he meets teaches Paulie something new or affects him in some way. These human actors all give great performances, especially Tony Shalhoub, who plays an immigrant from Russia that has just gotten a job as a janitor at an animal research facility, where Paulie has been held for many years. His character grounds the movie and is the one whom Paulie is telling his tale. While it’s often easy for these types of nested narratives to feel clunky or necessary, Paulie does it beautifully.
Paulie himself narrates the movie, with dialogue that is at times humorous and at other times heartbreaking. This is not only an adventurous journey, it’s an emotional one. With great characters and a story that hits all the right sentimental beats, it’s impossible not to cheer on this snarky conure.
Of course, you can’t bring up Paulie without mention the fantastic performance of the animal thespians. The title bird is portrayed by fourteen different blue-crowned conures throughout the movie. These avian actors are up to the task of bringing Paulie to life and display plenty of antics and emotions. However, some scenes were too dangerous for the birds to complete. For this, filmmakers called on Stan Winston Studios to create an animatronic parrot. This creation was extremely well done, and almost indistinguishable from its real-life counterparts. The animatronic scenes only comprised about 5 percent of the film’s running time. This reliance on actual birds for the role lends the film much more believability than machines or computer animation could have provided.
Sometimes not even real birds are enough to hold my cockatiel Pepper’s attention. As I often do, I watched this with my cockatiel friend. Aside from a few confused looks at some onscreen squawks, Pepper was far more interested in chewing the keys off my keyboard. But while the greatness of this film might be lost on feathered friends who can’t sit still, humans are sure to love it. Bird lovers may appreciate it more, but you don’t have to be owned by a parrot to come away from Paulie with a smile. In fact, showing this movie to non-bird folks might help them understand, even a little, why we grow so attached to our avian buddies. I’d say Pepper and I give the film two big zygodactyl digits up!
Do you love Paulie? Let us know in the comments!