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One day on a Canadian lake, a cob (male swan) and a pen (female swan) are saved by a boy named Sam from a fox. Sam is allowed to watch the swans' cygnets (baby swans) hatch, and it is discovered that one of them is mute. Instead of chirping to greet him, the mute cygnet pulls Sam's shoelace. Awww. Thus begins an Odd Friendship between swan and boy.
The story focuses on the swan, named Louis, and his efforts to overcome his handicap. Sam takes Louis to school so the bird can learn to read and write, and Louis's father steals a brass trumpet to give his son a voice. Louis feels guilty about the theft, so at Sam's suggestion he takes several jobs across America to pay for the trumpet. Adventures are had by all.
Compare to E.B. White's more famous novel, Charlotte's Web.
- Adaptation Expansion: In the novel, Serena refuses to interact with Louis because of his disability, and Louis wins her over simply by revealing that he can play the trumpet. In the film, Serena is much more sympathetic to Louie and a Jerkass rival named Boyd is added instead.
- All of the Other Reindeer
- Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: To a lesser extent. In the film a lot of swans have some additional color on their feathers besides white. For instance, Louis has yellow, his sisters have peach pink and green, and Boyd has bright red.
- Amplified Animal Aptitude: Louis and others. When his father breaks into a shop to steal the trumpet, he flies away feeling guilty for the crime.
- Award Bait Song: "Touch the Sky" from the film.
- Babies Ever After
- Big Words: Occasionally Sam or another human character will stop and explain what a certain word means.
- The Bully/Jerk Jock: Boyd in the film.
- Conspicuous CG: In the film.
- Dee Bradley Baker: Voiced Louis' thoughts in the film.
- Disability Superpower: Because he is mute, Louis learns to read and write English, skills the other swans do not possess.
- Distant Finale: Sam is 11 in the beginning and 20 by the end of the novel. He's still a kid in the end of the film.
- Edutainment Novel: Like Moby Dick for kids, but with swans instead of whales.
- Fat Bastard: The Big City Agent.
- Fat Idiot: The agent is this too.
- Funny Animal Anatomy: The book doesn't exactly say how Louis, who has no lips, can play a trumpet.
- Feather Fingers: Averted in the novel (where Louis has incisions made in the webbing of his right foot so he can use the valves on his trumpet), but played straight in the film adaptation.
- Genius Bruiser: Not only is Louis pretty smart for an animal, but according to the novel, a trumpeter swan can swat you with the force of a baseball bat. Louis doesn't hesitate to use his strength to defend Serena.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the film, Louie hold a bottle and thinks "This pound water kind of fizzy
- Gonk: The Big City Agent.
- Green Aesop: E.B. White sneaks a few in there.
- Gross-Out Film.
- Grudging Thank You: Averted. Applegate is more than happy to be saved by a "stupid dirty bird".
- Large Ham: Louis's father.
- Meaningful Name: Louis plays a trumpet, like a certain other jazz musician.
- The Napoleon: Boyd and the agent.
- Odd Friendship
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Boyd's character plays up the All of the Other Reindeer aspect from the novel, as to be expected.
- Polly Wants a Microphone: Louis with his chalkboard.
- The Rival: Boyd in the film.
- Shallow Love Interest: Serena, in the novel.
- Single Pen Seeks Good Cob: In the film, Serena prefers Nice Guy Louie over Jerkass Boyd.
- Summer Campy: Camp Kookooskoos.
- Talking Animal: Subverted with Louis, who can't talk, but can read and write. Played straight with all the other animals (at least when humans aren't around).