About halfway through Valiant, I realized two things: I would only take my children to see this movie to punish them, and I hope that when I do have children they’re smart enough to prefer watching paint dry to watching this film. Apparently not content with American film efforts to find the funny in World War II, British studio Vanguard Animation has created a film for the fun-loving patriot inside every six-year-old, a Disney-distributed CGI comedy about carrier pigeons fending off Axis birds to get the message through and save the day. The story practically writes itself.
The film tells the story of Valiant (voiced by Ewan McGregor), a small pigeon with big dreams of being a carrier bird for the Royal Homing Pigeon Service and ferrying secret messages to help the Allies. Valiant is the hero of the story, thanks to his dead giveaway of a name. I would have preferred the producers named him anything else, like Roger, or perhaps Mildly Heroic and Plagued by Self-Doubt. Then at least there would have been some genuine suspense: Will he come through and save the day? But even the dumbest children in the audience will have nothing to look forward to and will have to content themselves with the countless bird puns and quickly forgettable characters.
Valiant winds up enlisting with a ragtag group of untalented flyers because all the best birds have been killed by Nazi falcons (not making this up). Along with comic sidekick Bugsy (Ricky Gervais), Valiant and the rest train to go on a top secret mission to rescue Mercury (John Cleese), a pigeon being held by those ol’ Nazi falcons in their bunker. As Valiant and the others train, we are treated to the requisite montage of workouts, stunts, and even Valiant’s attempts to woo the head nurse. Bugsy also flirts with several of the nurses, and it was while watching him say “Ooh la la” and do some pelvic thrust pantomimes that I stopped pretending to care what happened.
The head falcon, Von Talon (Tim Curry), injects Mercury with a truth serum from a rather large needle to get him to reveal the location of the underground resistance in France, which is led by a female mouse named Charles De Girl (again, not making this up). Valiant and crew fly to France, meet up with the mice, spring Mercury from the trap, and fly home. We are given some pretty disturbing images for a G-rated film, including the stuffed and sewn-up corpses of captured pigeons mounted on the Nazis’ wall, but all the good guys make it out this time. And that’s it. It’s about 75 minutes long, and as devoid of plot as anything Disney’s been selling lately (Home on the Range, anyone?).
Title cards at the end of the film pay tribute to the recipients of the Dickin medal, an award given to animals for meritorious service in wartime. I thought this was also fictional, since giving an animal a medal seems like a waste of the animal’s time and a perfectly good medal, but it’s actually true. Maria Dickin, founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, instituted the award in 1943, and the prize subsequently became known as “the animals’ VC” (Victoria Cross). Unbelievable. Pigeons have microscopic brains and short life spans, so they probably won’t get the same sense of fulfillment from a medal as, say, a human soldier, and I know my dog would rather get some extra Beggin’ Strips over a medal any day.
The animation is as muddy as the plot: The dirty beige cityscapes and dully colored feathers are no match for the eye candy of a Pixar tale, and the character development in Valiant makes Toy Story look like War and Peace. Of course, an animated children’s movie will forgo certain nuances of emotional depth that regular films depend on, but even for a kiddie picture, Valiant is painfully lightweight. It’s as if the producers were following the path blazed by The Great Raid, expecting the story’s elements to naturally lend it a watchable, worthwhile quality. They were wrong.
Daniel Carlson is the L.A. critic for Pajiba and a copy editor for a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his weblog, Slowly Growing Bald.
Valiant / Daniel Carlson
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()