Welcome to our new column called “Movie Flashback.” In this Monthly column, we will talk about movies from the 90’s and early 2000’s. We’ll provide trivia, reviews, and whenever possible an interview with someone involved in the movie.
Our movie for this first edition of movie flashback is: Paulie (1998)
If you haven’t seen it yet head over to Netflix and watch it on instant streaming!
What’s the plot?
Starring Tony Shalhoub (Adrian Monk of the TV show Monk) as Misha Belenkoff a Russian immigrant who works as the Animal testing lab Janitor. While cleaning the basement, he meets Paulie (Jay Mohr) a talkative, sarcastic bird who is trapped in a cage at the mercy of the animal testers. Paulie speaks perfect English. However, he pretended that he could not talk when Belenkoff brought the people who put it in the cage. Misha convinces Paulie to tell his story using mango pieces. Paulie tells about his true owner, a girl named Marie Alweather (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), and how it was gifted to her by her grandfather and how he ended up in the lab.
The 90’s was full of animated and live action movies about talking animals. 101 Dalmatians Live action (1996) Balto, Babe, Beethoven, Look Who’s Talking Now!, Dr. Dolitte, Airbud, and the list goes on…
However, most of these talking animals films had the same thing in common: Based on true stories but with a 90’s cartoon touch, (Balto), Live action cartoon style, (Beethoven, 101 dalmatians, Look Who’s Talking Now!), or extreme franchising, (Dr. Dolitte, Airbud, Babe, Beethoven).
Paulie felt real! Paulie was different because the talking animal wasn’t a mere plot point for wacky humans to go crazy. The talking animal in this movie had depth, a personality and voice of his own; he had a whole long life of his own. You could write a book about Paulie’s life! Can you do that with Beethoven, Babe, or any of the animals from Dr. Dolitte. You could write about Balto since he was based on a true story, but Paulie was 100 percent original.
Paulie is good drama and a great comedy for the whole family. So much feels from the ending alone that if you don’t get at least teary-eyed I’m sorry you don’t have a heart. There I said it.
Budget: 23 million. Gross: 26 million. (US only)
Release Date: April 17th, 1998 and it lasted 20 weeks.
Year 1998 releases chart: 71
Live Action talking animal chart: 29
SoundCinemas.com got in touch through email with Laurie Craig, who wrote the script for the movie. She kindly answered all of our questions and here is a copy of the interview:
Did you came up with the story or were you assigned the basic pitch of the movie?
Paulie was an original story of mine. I was inspired by seeing a lone parrot in a cage and I wondered what it would be like if he could actually tell me his life story. Then I read about the amazing African Grey parrot named Alex who had a large vocabulary and was very bonded with his researcher. I wrote the script during the summer and some wild parrots just happened to be flocking in my neighborhood that year. They were certainly the inspiration for the wild birds that Paulie meets in Los Angeles.
How much of your script was left intact or re-written?
It was heavily re-written by other screenwriters but then I was brought back to heavily re-write them and did so all during principal photography. It was sometimes quite intense. The director would say “We need a transitional line here.” And I’d say, “Okay. Great. When do you need it?” And he’d say there were going to start shooting that scene in five minutes. I had to come up with a lot on the fly. It was a real trial by fire. My original idea of the parrot was a little more gentle and the studio went with a more comedic, sarcastic tone for the bird’s voice. There were some other choices I that wouldn’t have made, but the basic shape and heart of the story didn’t change. At it’s core, it’s about the love of a little girl for her first pet and his love for her. After they were separated, Paulie’s drive was always to get back home to her and his adventures flowed from that.
How was the experience working in this movie?
It was kind of a dream come true. I handed the script in to my agents at the end of the summer and there was a little bit of a bidding war. I think they sold it to Dreamworks within a week. Later I found out that Steven Spielberg had parrots. I’m glad I didn’t know that. If I had tried to write for him with that in mind, it wouldn’t have worked!
During the production there were over 20 little green Conure parrots used for the character of Paulie. Some were good at flying, some were good at hitting their marks, others were great in closeup. The actors were able to act in pretty long takes with them. Tony Shaloub told me that he just needed to “be with the bird” and the scenes worked great. And of course, everyone was told that it’s good luck if one poops on your shoulder. I will be forever grateful for the experience. I learned that I could re-write and re-write and re-write. I am not precious about my writing at all anymore. If someone else has a better idea that’s great. It means I get to go to bed earlier.
Are you working on any projects?
After Paulie I did more family films including adapting “Ella Enchanted” for Miramax, and “Ramona and Beezus” for Fox 2000. I was hired to write several scripts dealing with animals that have not been made yet. Lately I’ve been getting more interested in darker material. I adapted the novel “The Shadow Year” by Edgar award winning author, Jeffery Ford. So we’ll see what happens with that. One can not live by talking animals alone. Sooner or later, it’s great to have characters with opposable thumbs!