[It’s time once again for our monthly Nick Valdez blog promotion! Just kidding, you’re awesome Nick. But seriously guys, if you want to be on Flixist’s front page, it’s pretty easy! All you’ve got to do is write a blog about whatever our monthly topic happens to be. Yes, it’s that simple! This month, Nick Valdez expounds the virtues of Paulie, the talking bird.]
When I think of the word “humanimals” my first thoughts involve whether or not the subject is going to awaken something in me, and the Michigan rag. I used to be afraid of films that featured human-esque animals. I’d always figured that I would end up as insane as the gentlemen in the “One Froggy Evening” cartoon. I wasn’t always sure if I could deal with ethical repercussions that would come from animals that could speak English.
What if I was hungry and wanted to eat it? Would the animal proceed to guilt trip me? Possibly. Would a koala bear be smarter than I was? Most likely.
Paulie helped to relieve me of my “anti-humanimal” ailment all those years ago. After I re-watched it, I wondered if it would have the same effect on me. I was sadly mistaken. It made it worse.
Slight spoilers follow.
Paulie follows the story of the fluent English speaking parrot, Paulie, as he struggles to relocate his former owner Marie (Hallie Kate Eisenberg, otherwise known as the little girl from the Pepsi commercials) because he was separated from her by her parents. Through that adventure he meets a kindly old woman (Gena Rowlands), a latino in East LA (Cheech Marin, who manages to find his way into every movie with talking animals), and a con man who wants to use the parrot for financial gains (Jay Mohr).
Although the film’s premise seems a little “nineties,” I couldn’t help but be enthralled by it. As a main character, Paulie is just enchanting. There are nuances with the character that are normally reserved for human actors. Paulie the parrot comes off as a curious child whose outlook on the world is influenced by well spoken mentors. Every facet of his adventure almost comes off as the monomyth (hero’s journey) in which Paulie faces challenges where he needs to evolve in order to overcome them.
For example during a few scenes, Paulie gets involved in a string of robberies. His voiceover states that he needed “the green stuff” to help find his owner. It is not until later in the film that he learns he was doing wrong things, but it is hard to fault him for it. Paulie only learns through the help of others, and here he was in the care of the con man, Benny. It’s like when a juvenile gets arrested for a crime, and the first response is to blame the parents for their shortcomings.
A plot like the one in Paulie has the potential for timelessness. However, there are a bunch of odd choices that really prevent that timeless quality from really flourishing. In fact, some of it is borderline offensive.
I mentioned earlier that the film’s plot was very “nineties”. What I meant by that was that there are allusions to the culture of the time that dates it to that period. Every single character in this film has an accent for some reason. Ignacio and the entirety of “East LA,” are “illegals”. That means that Marin has to give his character a strong accent that he normally doesn’t have. Marin is an eloquent speaker when he’s allowed to be, and I personally hate to see this happen. Benny’s girlfriend Ruby (Tia Texada), even has a quasi Rosie Perez “semi-Spanglish” accent.
And as much as I like Paulie’s character, I have a strong disdain for his voice. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to sound like he’s got giant rocks in his mouth, but if that is the case, Jay Mohr successfully plays it well. Speaking of Jay Mohr, his other character Benny has a weird “New Yorker” accent that is apparently necessary. It’s especially noticeable during moments when he is talking to himself as Paulie and Benny exchange words.
The biggest offender by far though is Tony Shaloub’s Misha. Misha Vilyenkov is a Russian immigrant custodian whom Paulie tells his life’s story to. I despise his accent for some reason. It just seems too forced for me to ignore. At one point, he says the word “mango” and I wanted to shoot my computer screen. The accents stand out far more now than they used to, and it shows the film hasn’t aged too well.
Pictured: D’awww. Never mind all of that “flaw” talk.
Once you get past the creepy animatronics, slightly depressing ending, and baffling accents, Paulie isn’t half bad. It’s a great testament to the company that Dreamworks used to be. You know, before it began its slew of same looking animated films. I like the sum of its parts, even if I don’t care for all of that parts (if that even makes sense).
All those years ago, Paulie made me reconsider my view of “humanimals”. I thought I could be friends with them, given the chance. After re-watching it, I still think could be friends with sentient, eloquent animals…as long as their accents don’t irritate me.