an animated film about anthropomorphic pigeons, Valiant
actually strives to maintain some sort of historical accuracy.
The allies did use pigeons for communication during World
War II, and the Nazis did use falcons to try and bring them
down. It should make for a potent metaphor without tweaking
our suspension of disbelief too much, and it does, up to
do not necessarily make for entertaining children's films,
and that's where the producers of Valiant struggle.
because both Valiant the pigeon and Valiant the movie
are terribly British. Most of the heroes walk around keeping
stiff upper beaks and all that, with allusions to class
issues that will leave most American kids scratching their
heads. A lot of the celebrity voices get lost because they're
all doing types and not real characters.
Oh, the Nazi
falcons make effective if clownish villains, led by Tim
Curry as Von Talon, a role he could do in his sleep and
thankfully doesn't. One falcon, voiced by Rik Mayall, gleefully
confesses to a love of the color pink.
And the basic
character arc for Valiant does cross the Atlantic just fine.
He's undersized but plucky, determined to do his part for
the war effort and possibly find himself a dove. (Does that
count as miscegenation?)
by Ewan McGregor, Valiant could just as easily be an all-American
boy. It's actually kind of a relief to hear McGregor use
his natural accent after a few years of serving exactly
that role in films like Robots
and Big Fish. He's just
as British as he is "American," and just as effective.
his country home to join the Royal Homing Pigeon Squadron
and immediately picks up a slovenly sidekick named Bugsy
(the brilliant Ricky Gervais). An ineffective conman, Bugsy
finds it convenient to shepherd Valiant to the recruitment
center, and accidentally gets swept up in the commotion.
Valiant follows the numbers. F Squad's training scenes
alternate with Von Talon's dastardly interrogation of the
captured pigeon Mercury (John Cleese). Ultimately, the secret
message that Mercury should have picked up turns out to
be a macguffin, as its content or consequences seem immaterial
to the film - it only matters that a certain undersized
pigeon must save the day.
for the animation, Director Gary Chapman's team is competent,
but never quite sucks us in to their reality. After years
of being spoiled by both Pixar and PDI making huge breakthroughs
with background work on grass and water, nature looks flat
they gone a more stylized route, such as was done to mixed
effect in Madagascar, it might have worked. Instead,
the design work feels just slightly off. For example, some
birds have square jaws and jutting chins under their beaks,
the better to parody images of masculinity. It plays at
odds with the characters that do look more naturally bird-like
- such as Valiant himself. (But it is funny for Von Talon
to have a brushcut.)
The story does
acknowledge that this was a war of men. Though humans only
appear a couple of times, and we never see their faces,
Valiant and Bugsy debate the rationale for their getting
involved in someone else's war. The birds have their own
society which mirrors humanity, but it's slight.
the close, title cards give us a little bit of historical
background, and it's clear that the history was important
to the filmmakers. If only they'd worried a little more
about making a compelling narrative. Valiant is plucky
and mildly entertaining, but in the end, it's as little
but not as strong as its hero.