Little did I know that we had such heroic animals during World War II – and that they were awarded medals of honor. The Dickins Award of Gallantry was given to pigeons (namely), dogs, cats, and a few other species that helped with communication in Europe. These “homing” pigeons could deliver messages with shocking precision and were unlikely heroes when other methods of communication went down or were unavailable.
Valiant is inspired by the stories of the homing pigeons, but this is crazy kids’ fun through and through. The film is also Disney’s first animated offering since their divorce from Pixar, and stepping in is Vanguard Animation. The final product is an occasionally humorous farce, but it definitely doesn’t measure up to those brilliant Pixar offerings.
Valiant (voiced by Ewan McGregor) is the smallest pigeon in the land and certainly an unlikely candidate to join the macho Royal Air Force Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS). But where he comes from members of the RHPS are heroes, and Valiant wants to be a hero. By happenstance he meets Bugsy, a most uncouth bird (three flies circle his head for most of the film, and he farts and burps a lot. This is from the producers of Shrek, after all) who has no interest in joining the RHPS. But before you can squawk the alphabet Valiant, Bugsy, and a collection of other characters find themselves in boot camp and are soon called upon to complete a mission. The villains are the Falcons, led by the brooding Von Talon (voiced by the wonderful Tim Curry). They swoop out of nowhere to kidnap and/or kill our beloved heroes.
Working with an abbreviated budget compared to Pixar and other studios, Vanguard Animation has churned out a delectable feast for the eyes. As one would expect with a kids film, the animation is bright and the action is nonstop. Our feathered friends dart around the frame in ways we have yet to see and Vanguard suitably shows off their expansive maps during the film’s showcase sequence. This is a quality effort in a genre that we have all come to take for granted with our rising expectations for this cutting edge technology.
The vocal work is entertaining, but not entirely memorable. Ewan McGregor brings a sense of wonder and excitement to Valiant that will have kids theater-wide cheering him on. Ricky Gervais gets the most laughs as Bugsy, but it is Tim Curry and John Cleese that steal the show as our main villain and a pigeon-held-captive name Mercury, respectively. The motor-mouth delivery of Mercury is classic Cleese, and picturing him in a sound booth recording is actually funnier than what’s onscreen. Curry is given ample time to overact in his own special way, and I mean that entirely as a compliment. Other big name contributors include Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, and John Hurt.
Where the film falls short, however, is in the laugh department. As I have stated in past reviews for films aimed at the youngsters, I try to gauge audience reaction to films like this and give that weight in my criticism. Many young ones at the screening were bored and surprisingly laugh-free. I can’t blame them, as very much of the humor is forced and oftentimes relegated to bathroom humor. It is used to excess and in turn doesn’t succeed as planned. Additionally, much of the humor is simply above the comprehension of the target audience. A mother sitting one row in front of me scoffed several times at the sexual undertones depicted by one of the characters, but children will not even know what it means. This worked well with Shrek, but here the screenplay fails to find a riff and sustain it.
Valiant serves its purpose as end-of-the-summer entertainment for the young ones before they head back to school, but aside from that it will likely be viewed once and forgotten in favor of other funnier films with better repeat value. Count me in as a slight recommendation, but this one can wait for DVD unless the youngsters are clamoring to see it this weekend.
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Length: 76 Minutes
Theatrical Release: August 19, 2005
Directed by: Gary Chapman
Written by: Jordan Katz & George Webster & George Melrod. Story by Webster.
Cast: Ewan McGregor (voice), Ricky Gervais (voice), Tim Curry (voice), Jim Broadbent (voice), Hugh Laurie (voice), John Cleese (voice)