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EFL Movie Study Guides (for English learners)

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EFL Movie Study Guide for: Paulie



This page has been updated slightly at


Story: Paulie is a parrot (鹦鹉) whose mouth keeps getting him in (and out) of trouble. Separated from the little girl he loves, Paulie flies across the USA, and (along with lots of laughs) lets us experience several aspects of American culture, including a look at life for immigrants, Hispanic people, senior citizens, the handicapped, a small-time thief, and a greedy scientist. (1998; Cheech Marin, Buddy Hacket; DreamWorks Pictures; comedy, drama; PG; 91 minutes)

Setting: USA, first the east coast, but soon heading west.

Notes: Misha is a recent immigrant, so his English is not standard; in fact, the writers have given Artie and Ignacio poor English too, to show a lack of education. (I haven’t fixed their speech, so I hope English-learners can figure out what people are trying to say!). This movie uses the “flashback” technique to tell a story, so it starts near the end, and then goes back to tell us Paulie’s story.

Interesting fact: According to, this type of parrot has “a life expectancy of 15 to 25 years” 

A partial preview (to help you understand what you will see).

Paulie starts as a gift to a little girl (Marie), who stutters; Grandpa thinks that she needs “someone to talk to.” But Marie’s parents couldn’t deal with Marie’s stuttering problem, and they sell the bird, who has his heart set on getting back to Marie if possible someday. Paulie has several owners, including a Pawn Shop owner, who sells him to an elderly lady (Ivy). Paulie helps Ivy after she goes blind, but eventually flies across the USA to Los Angeles. There, he falls in love, works at a “Taco stand” and then later (unknowingly) for a thief. When caught, Paulie ends up at an Animal Research Institute. But the top scientist breaks a promise to set Paulie free, and then locks the bird in the basement. A new janitor finds Paulie, hears about his adventures, and sets out to reunite Paulie and Marie.


People and proper nouns:

Paulie: a parrot (most parrots can imitate speech, but this one can actually talk)

Misha: a Russian immigrant to the US, working as a janitor

Ivy: an elderly woman who is going blind

Ignacio: an Hispanic-American (i.e., his ancestors were from a Spanish-speaking country like Mexico or Cuba) who operates a taco restaurant/bar

Benny: a small-time thief

Dr. Goldberg: a scientist who works with animals

L.A.: Los Angeles; a large city in California, on America’s west coast


Nouns/verbs (vocabulary):

*ambulance: a vehicle used to transport sick people (or those who have just died) to a hospital (救护车?)

basement: an underground floor, often used for storage because it is cold and uncomfortable down there

*big shot: (slang) an important person

*blind: unable to see

*brochure: a printed item that contains descriptive information or advertising

chimney: a pipe that allows smoke to go up through the roof of a house, factory, etc.

to chuckle/chuckling: a quiet form of laughter

conure: a type of parrot; Dr Reingold calls him a “green conure parrot”

*crime: an act of breaking the law; doing something illegal. “The most important thing is to leave nothing that links you to the scene of the crime.”

to deport: to force someone to return to his/her country, because he/she no longer has the right to visit or work in your country. “Don’t do that, Misha! They could have you deported!”

diamonds/rocks: a clear, hard, valuable stone used for expensive jewelry (金刚石?); diamonds are also called “rocks.” “We’re wasting our time with chump change (small amounts of money), when there are rocks to be grifted.”

easel: a special frame used to hold the paper or canvas you are drawing/painting on (i.e., when creating western art)

*fairy godmother: in some fantasy stories, this is a person with magic power (who often uses magic to quickly solve problems in an emergency)

*fake: not real but looking real, esp. used to describe inexpensive copies of things like diamonds or art

*fantasy: a type of story based on imagination, featuring magic or unusual worlds, creatures, experiences, etc.

*flashback: a scene or event in a story or film, shown out of its normal time-order (e.g., going back to show the audience how something happened)

*gap: a space or “big difference”, e.g., between people, buildings, parents and their kids, people from different countries…

gonna: oral English, meaning "going to" (students should never write the word "gonna" because it is not really a word)

gotta: oral English, meaning "have got to" (students should never write the word "gotta" because it is not really a word)

to grift: (AmE slang) to steal, and esp to steal money; a “grifter” is a thief

to growl: to make a noise to scare others away, like an angry dog (usually before it barks or bites)

*janitor: (AmE) the person takes care of a large building, cleaning it, changing lights, opening/locking doors, etc.


mango: a sweet tropical fruit (芒果?). “Flocks of parrots have been seen feeding in mango trees.”

*to matter (that mattered; it matters): to be very important (that was very important; it is particularly important)

*mimic (or “parroting”): to copy or imitate speech or behavior. “Parrots don’t talk, they mimic.”

to pawn/pawn shop: to trade something valuable for money (far less than it is worth), with the intent of coming back to get it after a period of time (if you don’t return, the “pawnbroker” can sell it; this is done at a “pawn shop”) (典押?)

perch: a place (often a branch or pole) where a bird sits to look down on a situation

purgatory: an “in between” place, often considered lifeless and/or painful (often used humorously); in some religions, this is like a “jail” between heaven and hell where people work/suffer to become good enough to go to heaven

rocks (see diamond)

*rude: impolite or unkind words or actions, intended to offend others

*seeing-eye: (adj) normally refers to a “seeing-eye dog” trained to help blind people, but Ivy calls Paulie a “seeing-eye parrot”

snoring: the loud noise some people make when they are asleep (打鼾?)

*stubborn: unreasonable or difficult to deal with because you won’t change your mind

*stuttering: a speech problem wherein you can’t stop repeating the beginning of some words (some people only stutter when they are nervous; others stutter all the time)

taco: a popular Mexican food made with a corn-meal shell, filled with meat, beans, etc. “Let’s go to a taco shop for a quick dinner.”

wanna: oral English, meaning "want to" (students should never write the word "wanna" because it is not really a word)


Phrases or sayings:

*a case of jitters: describes nervous or worried behavior. “This is just a case of opening-night jitters.”

*did a stint: to perform a job for a limited time. “He did a two-year stint in the army.”

*fell on hard times: has entered a period of difficulty, esp. by losing a job or income

*get rid of sth: to throw sth away (like trash) or otherwise eliminate it

*join the club: (often spoken as if unhappy) meaning “I’m in the same bad situation as you, and probably a lot of other people too”



1. Misha and Ignacio were immigrants. Tell your partner why you think they moved to America, or why up to a million people per year try to make America their permanent home.

2. In Russia, Misha was a teacher. In America, he took a job as a janitor. Explain why he had to take this low-skill, low-pay job if he had been qualified as a teacher in the past.

3. Do you think you would ever accept a job that paid less than your previous job? Explain why or why not.

4. In dialog 7, Paulie says: “Marie couldn’t talk. The dad couldn’t listen. The mom couldn’t cope. So they got rid of me.” Explain the first sentence to your partner; your partner will explain the second sentence, and so on.

5. Read dialog 11. What do you think is more important: a destination, or getting there? Explain your answer.

6. In dialog 13, Paulie says, “But the real thing Ivy taught me is you gotta live like there may not be a later.” Can you think of something you want to do “later”; when do you think you will get to do this thing? Should you try to do it sooner? Why or why not?

7. In dialog 15, Misha describes the kind of woman he wants to marry. Tell your partner about the qualities you want in a future husband of wife.

8. In dialogs 18 & 19 we see that there was no “legal” reason to return Paulie to Marie, and after all, Paulie was just a bird! If they could study Paulie, maybe they could make other animals talk—wouldn’t that be a good thing? Do you think Dr. Reingold should have done something differently? What and why?

9. In the end, Misha lost his job and had to break the law in order to return Paulie to Marie. Did he do the right thing? Most people would not sacrifice their job for a bird; what would you sacrifice your job for? Explain your answer.


Sentences/dialogs from the movie:

(in part from; imdb's website is a great place to find movie facts and more)

Say these dialogs out loud with your friends; it will help you prepare to watch the movie. Blue parts below are particularly important. The underlined words are defined in the vocabulary section above.

1.   (This is Misha’s first night on a job in a science facility where researchers study animal behavior; Virgil is a co-worker)

      Virgil: The agency told you you had to pay for your own uniforms, right?

      Misha: Yes, I to buy with money from job.

      Virgil: No, no, no. You can't start the job without a uniform.

      Misha: But how to buy if not been paid?

      Virgil: You don't have any money?

      Misha: No. This is why I take job. To make money. This is why I come to America. To be big shoot.

      Virgil: [You mean] “Shot.” Big shot.

      Misha: I try not to live in past. Only present tense since I come to America.

      Virgil: [chuckling] Yeah, but "big shoot" makes no sense. (Virgil shows Misha around the facility.) This is the main building. Administration, lecture rooms and laboratories. Don’t worry about the cages or what’s in ‘em [them]. The research assistants feed them. You know, they study animal behavior.

      Misha: In cage, only can behave like prisoner.

      Virgil: A word of advice, my man. Try not to think so much. And whatever you do, don’t bother the professors. They’re the real “big shoots” around here. (They enter the basement.) This is purgatory.

      Misha: What kind bird is this?

      Virgil: The biting kind. Be careful. (Paulie growls.)

      Misha: Are you bird or dog? What he’s doing down here?

      Virgil: Paulie’s an old project for Dr. Reingold. Didn’t work out. Loss of funding or something. I can’t remember.

      Misha: But he’s not eat, I think, and he lose his feather.

      Virgil: Don’t worry about him. Come on. I’ll show you where the incinerator [trash burner] is.

2. (After Paulie refuses to talk to Dr. Reingold.)

      Misha (to Paulie): Great. Now we’re both in trouble. What is problem with you? You know, maybe they should stuff you, scoop you out, fill you with foam and glue you to fake tree. You’re lonely, I think. I am lonely. In Russia, I was teacher of literature. In America, I am cleaner of bird crap. I miss words. I miss my language. I just would like someone to talk to.

      Paulie: Join the club.

      Misha: What?

      Paulie: I said, join the club.

      Misha: So I’m not crazy. You CAN talk!

      Paulie: Of course I can talk.

      Misha: Then why you not?

      Paulie: Because talking just gets you into a lot of trouble.

      Misha: Trouble? Why you say that?

      Paulie: It’s a long story.

      Misha: I'm Russian. I like long stories!

      Paulie: All right, Chekhov, sit down. (sighing) It all started with Marie.

3. (Marie hears her parents arguing about her stuttering problem)

      Marie (to Paulie): OK. You are the fairy godmother. I am the p-p-princess. We live in a big castle, and I have lots of p-p-princess dresses. OK, fairy godmother. M-M-Make me talk right. A-A-And p-p-please hurry.

4.   Paulie: I was quiet. I’m sorry I was, but I was afraid of him. And that’s not all I was afraid of.

      Misha: You were afraid to fly?

      Paulie: I was afraid of heights. That is, until I learned a new word.

      Misha: What?

      Paulie (remembering that Marie’s dad gave her a cat): I had no idea what that thing was, but something deep inside told me it was hazardous to my health.

5.   Dad: I don’t think she can tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

      Mom (not happy): Come on.

      Dad: You know what she said? Are you ready for this? She said the bird told her the cat started it [started the fight].

      Mom: She said that to you? Well, she’s five years old. It’s her imaginary friend.

      Dad: She doesn’t have any other friends. She hasn’t made any other attachments. I really think that we should consider getting rid of the bird.

      Mom: I don’t know, Warren. She loves that bird.

6.   Marie: You have to learn how to fly, Paulie.

      Paulie: No. I don’t want to! Why?

      Marie: So in case you ever go away, y-you can fly back to me. We h-have to be together, r-right?

      Paulie: Right!

      Marie: Then fly! Don’t look down. You could do it!

      Paulie: If it’s so easy, then why don’t you do it?

7.   Paulie (to Misha): Marie couldn’t talk. The dad couldn’t listen. The mom couldn’t cope. So they got rid of me.

      Misha: So they bring you here?

      Paulie: No, it wasn’t that easy hitting rock bottom. I did a bunch of things. First I did a stint as a window display in a place called Bloomingdales’s (Department Store). And I was in a brochure for Costa Rica. I did some work as a magician’s assistant doing children’s parties, but when Zintar fell on hard times, he had to choose between me and the cape. Guess which one he pawned?

8.   Artie (the pawn-shop owner), offers “ten bucks ($10)” to Benny for a stolen radio, mainly trying to get this dishonest guy to go away. But Benny tries to argue so Paulie speaks to him.

      Paulie: Hit the bricks, ugly. (i.e., go take a walk!)

      Benny: That’s cute. Do you train the bird to insult your customers?

      Paulie: No, I could tell you’re ugly all by myself.

      Benny: How’d he do that?

      Artie: He watches television?

      Benny: What an angle. I could see how his unique skills could really come in handy to an intelligent guy, huh?

      Paulie: Yeah, I’ll let you know when I see one.

      Benny: How much [do] you want for him, Artie?

      Artie: A lot more than ten bucks, baby. You’d have to grift for more than a year to make his numbers.

      Ivy: OK, which of you three is the proprietor? (i.e., Artie, Benny or the bird)

      Artie: Very funny, toots. What do you got there?

      Ivy: Oh, this is my easel. It’s a very fine one. My late husband got it for me, and I really hate to part with it, you know?

      Artie: Yeah, whatever. Dead husband aside, do you wanna pawn or sell?

      Paulie: The real question is: Are you prepared to throw in that potholder on your head?

      Ivy: Well, that was extremely rude. Did you teach him that?

      Benny: No. That’s the thing. The dirty mouth is all his.

      Paulie: What are you looking at?

      Ivy: You know, I think I’ll take him with me…. Somebody has to teach this beautiful bird some manners. Might as well be me.

      Paulie: What’s wrong with my manners? (Paulie burps, which is also considered rude)


(continued in the next column)


9. (Paulie and Ivy discover that Marie’s family has moved across the country to L.A.--Los Angeles, California. They are talking in Ivy’s home, which is really a “camper”--a truck that people live in during a vacation.)

      Paulie: Why does your house have wheels?

      Ivy: Houses are cheaper with wheels.

      Paulie: I was thinking more along the lines that houses with wheels can go places.

      Ivy: Well, not anymore, I’m afraid. Earl and I used to travel all of the time, you know? But things change. He had even crazier ideas than you have. We always used to talk about going to the Grand Canyon, but we just never got that far. You know, Earl said that if you stand right at the edge just when the sun comes up, it's like seeing the first sunrise in the whole world.

      Paulie: He was kind of poetic, wasn't he?

      Ivy: For an ex-Marine.

      Paulie: Hmm, you miss Earl…like I miss Marie.

10. (They decide to drive west.)

      Paulie: I thought flying was scary - until I drove with Ivy. Now, that’s scary! …Ivy was a great teacher. She was a philosopher, an explorer. Unfortunately, she also thought she was a singer.

      Paulie: (Ivy has been singing for a while…) Ivy, please. I'm a bird. I have a small brain, and it's about to explode.

11. Paulie: So, when will we get there?

      Ivy: Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking, “What are we gonna see along the way? What wrong turn are we gonna make that will take us someplace unexpected? Will the weather be for us, or will it be against us? Will we lose faith? Will we get there, or won’t we?”

      Paulie: You’re scaring me. (Ivy starts chuckling)

12. Paulie: For all of her “pleases” and “thank yous,” words weren’t really that important to Ivy. It’s what she saw that mattered. Seems to me, the way it works out, it’s the things you love most that are the things they take away.

13. Ivy: You know what you are Paulie? You're my seeing-eye parrot. You've been a dear friend to me Paulie. We're birds of a feather, you and I. Betwixt and between, that's us. So what do we have tonight? Is it pretty?

      Paulie: Oh, very pretty. There's more orange now, and it's getting darker. Just a little gold left.

      Ivy: The sun must almost be set. Can you see any stars yet?

      Paulie: Not yet…. (Then we see an ambulance next to the camper.) And then one day, the cat got her (i.e., Ivy died). There are things in life you put off, because you think you're gonna do them later. But the real thing Ivy taught me is you gotta live like there may not be a later. (So Paulie decided to try to fly, and it worked! He flew to the Grand Canyon.) I found a tree, and I spent the night. 'Cos [because] I wanted to be there in the morning... for the very first sunrise.

14. Ignacio: Hey you, come on down here. OK, what’s your story?

      Paulie: Uh, yes. Uh, I’m looking for someone named Marie Alweather. But I’m afraid I may be lost. Can you tell me where I am?

      Ignacio: You’re in L.A. East L.A.

      Paulie: L.A.? L.A.! Oh, my gosh, I made it! I don’t believe it!

      Ignacio: I don’t believe it. You can talk?

      Paulie: They talk. (i.e., the other parrots)

      Ignacio: Them? They don’t talk. I say “taco.” They say “taco.”

      Parrots: Taco, taco, taco

      Paulie: Are they ok?

      Ignacio: Sure, they’re OK. I don’t know about me. I’m talking to a bird.

15.  (Talking about the time Paulie fell in love with a gold-headed parrot)

      Misha: Women can be tough.

      Paulie: Tell me about it. So, how do you know if you’ve met the right one?

      Misha: Well, for me, let me see. She would be pretty, but smart. She would have books on her table and flowers in her hair.

      Paulie: And lots of golden feathers.

      Misha: Well, yes. Important to have high standard.

      Paulie: So, Misha, [have] you got a girlfriend?

      Misha: No. Well, once. A little bit.

      Paulie: What? How do you have “a little bit” of a girlfriend? This is interesting. Go on.

      Misha: Before I’m coming to America, there was girl. We were student together at university. Sure, we talk about books. We even fight about them. She was very smart, and stubborn…. One time, she act in play in front of whole school. I was working behind curtain, in dark. I see her on stage. She had little flowers in her hair and the light make them all different colors. And I say to myself, “My G-d, she is beautiful; maybe too beautiful for me, but I will tell her how I feel.” Afterward, when I’m come near to her…

      Paulie: She stole your words away

      Misha: Yes. She marry my best friend. He told her how he feel. At wedding, she take me aside and say, “Misha, I always liked you best, but I was afraid of your silence.” It is important to speak up.

16.  Paulie: You know how it is. [As] Soon as you think you landed on easy street (i.e., you’re OK), the past comes back to bite you in your tail feathers.

17.  Benny called the “cops” (police), telling lies to get them to come to the Taco shop. When the police arrive, everyone runs away (maybe because some are “illegals”--illegal immigrants--or because the restaurant does not have the right kind of business license), and in the confusion Benny steals Paulie. Then he promises to help him find Marie if he will “help him”; Paulie doesn’t know that Benny is a thief until after he gets caught.

18. (“Grandpa Gerald” captured Paulie, who was trying to steal jewelry from his house)

      Dr Reingold: So, you say he flew down your chimney.

      Grandpa: That’s what he told me.

      Dr Reingold: (laughing) Well, many parrots have quite extensive vocabularies, but there’s a difference between cognizant speech and parroting.

      Grandpa: He keeps talking about a “Marie Alweather.” I think she might be his owner.

      Dr Reingold: Well, that’s not unusual, either. Lots of people train their birds to repeat names and addresses in case they get lost. I’m sure that’s the case.

      Paulie: Do you have a phone book? Please.

      Grandpa: He’s very polite.

      Dr Reingold: I’m sure that’s just a trained response. But I’d like to keep him here a few days and maybe run some tests. Build him up a bit. He looks a little undernourished. But don’t worry. You did the right thing bringing him here, Gerald. We’ll take good care of him. (Grandpa leaves, and Dr Reingold starts talking to Paulie.) I want you to understand what it is we do here. Mostly we just listen and we watch. You see, there’s this gap between animals and humans. And the gap is called speech. Now, if that gap could be bridged, we could truly understand each other. Won’t you consider helping us? Tell you what. I’m gonna have you moved out of here tonight. And I promise you, I will take you to see Marie when we’re done.

      Paulie: [Do] You promise?

      Dr Reingold: I promise.

19. Paulie: I told you, talking just gets you into trouble.

      Misha: No. It’s not that. It’s how you say thing. You have to be careful. Woman say, “You like my hat?” You say, “No, it makes you look like floor lamp.” You get punch [hit] in nose.

      Paulie: I got worse than that.

      (Then we find out that Dr. Goldberg had found Marie, and had her address, but—in the hope of becoming famous because of this “talking bird”—was planning to break his promise to let Paulie go back to her. On the phone to another scientist, Dr. Goldberg says, “There’s no legal requirement that we have to return him. He’s the property of the Institute now.” To keep him from flying away, they “cut a few primary flight feathers.”)


If you don’t want to know what happens at the end of the movie, stop reading here!



20. Misha: I think this is the one (i.e., Marie’s house).

      Paulie: I can’t breathe.

      Misha: Look!

      Paulie: It’s her! Misha, it’s her!

      Misha: Now I can’t breathe.

21.  (To prove that she really is Marie, Marie sings her mother’s song to Paulie)

      Marie: You're the song that the tree sings, when the wind blows. / You're a flower... you're a river, you're a rainbow. / I loved you the first time I saw you, and I always will love you, Marie…

      Marie (to Misha): I can’t thank you enough.

      Misha: You’re welcome. So, I will go now.

      Marie: Oh, no. Please don’t rush off. Won’t you come inside?

      Misha: No, it’s OK. You will have much to talk about. Goodbye. Goodbye, Paulie.

      Paulie: Misha, where [are] you going? She has flowers in her hair. I bet she has books on her table.

      Marie: What is he talking about?

      Misha: I’m not always sure.

      Paulie: Misha, don’t be afraid to speak.

      Marie: I’d love it if you stayed.

      Misha: You know, I would like that. I would like that very much.

      Marie: Paulie, how did you find me?

      Paulie: Well, It's a long story.

      Misha: [chuckling] It’s the only kind he knows.


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