Paulie

* * *

In the wake of Babe, you would expect to be doused by a flood of talking animal movies. Paulie is the first of three we can expect this year (the others including Dr. Dolittle and Babe 2). If the others are as good as Paulie, we'll be lucky.

The film opens with Misha (Tony Shalhoub), janitor at an animal research company, discovering a parrot in the basement. But this is no ordinary parrot...this is Paulie (voiced by Jay Mohr), and he can talk. Not just mimicking like most parrots, but true intelligent speech. Misha and Paulie become friends, and Paulie tells his tale.

It all started when he was a hatchling. He was bought as a present for a young girl, Marie Allweather (Hallie Kate Eisenberg). She has trouble speaking and few other friends, but Paulie soon becomes her best friend and teacher (helping her overcome her stutter).

But good things never last, and after being blamed for being a bad influence, Paulie is sold. He makes a vow to return to Marie any way he can. The film follows Paulie on his journey, as he meets a wide variety of people. There's a kind old painter, Ivy (Gena Rowlands), a shifty con-man, Benny (Jay Mohr), a happy-go-lucky restaurateur, Ignacio (Cheech Marin), and a scientist, Dr. Reingold (Bruce Davison).

Overall, the film is cute, and a little oversentimental. The film it most hearkens to is Babe. However, it doesn't have as strong a sense of magic as the talking pig flick...but Paulie packs a heftier sense of humor.

What really sells the film is the character of Paulie, himself. Many animal films rely completely on the animal's cuteness to sell itself. Although there are a couple of the requisite "awwww" scenes, the film doesn't dwell on them. Instead, we get to know and like this parrot as a person. In fact he's more interesting than the majority of characters that we get to meet in many films today.

Plus, Paulie has quite a cast to back him up. Tony Shalhoub in particular does a noteworthy job as the kindred spirit who lends a sympathetic ear to a talking bird.

There are a couple of cute parrot tricks in the film, particularly those involving an ATM, but not as many as you might expect in a film of this type. The speech effects are convincing, but considering they involve an immobile beak, they don't seem to have the same finesse as Babe. A minor complaint: we never quite learn why Paulie is so unique. We meet several other animals (even other semi-talking Parrots), and none seem quite so human as Paulie.

The cinematography is not quite as good as it tries to be. For example, there is a sunrise sequence which is supposed to be awe inspiring, but comes off as particularly bland.

But that aside, Paulie is quite entertaining. The film has a heart, and a mind as well.

[PG] (Dreamworks SKG)


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