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Despite being 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 a point.

Potent metaphors do not necessarily make for entertaining children's films, and that's where the producers of Valiant struggle.

Partly that's 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?)

Voiced 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.

Valiant leaves 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.

From there, 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.

As 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 here.

Had 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.

At 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.



Derek McCaw

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