Valiant Made in: Great Britain Language: English Director: Gary Chapman Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Tim Curry, John Cleese, Rik Mayall, Michael Schlingmann, John Hurt, Olivia Williams, Sharon Horgan Year: 2005
Synopsis: It's 1944, and World War II is raging. The British have devised an ingenious plan to coordinate attacks against German forces in occupied France by sending secret messages via homing pigeons. The most decorated member of the RHPS (Royal Homing Pigeon Service) is a brave bird named Gutsy (voice of Hugh Laurie), who serves as its Wing Commander.
When one of their top fliers, Mercury (voice of John Cleese), is captured by a group of German falcons under General Von Talon (voice of Tim Curry), the RHPS finds itself in dire need of recruits. Brave little Valiant (voice of Ewan McGregor) wants to enlist, but many laugh at him because of his small size and wingspan.
Undeterred, he flies to London where he meets another pigeon named Bugsy (voice of Ricky Gervais). Bugsy is a fast-talking huckster who spends his days conning other birds in Trafalgar Square.
The two find themselves signing up at an RHPS recruiting station, and they ship off for basic training along with a motley crew of other pigeons. Under the supervision of their sergeant (voice of Jim Broadbent), Valiant and his fellow trainees are drilled to exhaustion and pretty much fail the entire course.
But before their training is finished, they find that they're the only ones available for a dangerous mission. The objective is to fly behind enemy lines in occupied France, meet up with the Resistance, and bring back a secret message vital to the Allied war effort.
However, the German falcons are waiting for them, and the brave pigeons must use all their skill and resources in order to retrieve the message and make it back to England alive.
The Good: The strongest part about Valiant is its cast. Ewan McGregor does a great job as the protagonist, and it's very fun to hear the likes of Ricky Gervais, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, and the incredible character actor Tim Curry interacting with each other.
The animation is very good, of course, and the sophisticated British vocabulary makes for classy and witty humor. John Cleese has a few zany moments that almost reminded me of his Monty Python days. The culturally English atmosphere thankfully remains intact, and I'm glad the filmmakers (and Disney, which distributed the movie) didn't assume it needed to be dumbed down for American audiences.
There's plenty of kids stuff to keep children entertained, and there are a number of more adult-oriented items (i.e. legal details of the Geneva Convention and other historical references) that grown-ups will appreciate.
The Bad: Although the caliber of the acting talent is superb, and each of the actors does an impeccable job reciting his/her lines, Valiant seems to center too much around its well-known cast. It's the voices, not the characters on screen, that become the main part of the show (which arguably shortchanges the kids).
The written characters, although distinct, aren't very in-depth or developed. The hero doesn't change or learn anything new at the end, and the change of heart that comes across the selfish con artist Bugsy is never explained. And even though Tim Curry sounds like he's having loads of fun voicing the evil General Von Talon, the actual nemesis is one dimensional.
The only thing that makes him seem evil is the fact that he's big, German, and wears an eye patch.
The slapstick comedy gets a little annoying, and I think that even small children will grow tired of it after a while. Watching the characters get hit in the head is all right the first few times, but when it starts happening over and over again, it becomes painful to watch. Does Ewan McGregor's character have to slam his skull against every tree, fence, and metal object in France?
Major factual error: In the movie, members of the French Resistance (voiced by Sharon Horgan and Buckley Collum) play the song Non, je ne regrette rien, sung by Edith Piaf. However, the song wasn't written until 1956, well after the end of World War II.
Who would like this movie: Valiant is for you if you like CG movies, and happen to be a fan of any of the major actors involved. At well under 90 minutes, the story is short and not a minute longer than it needs to be. But the plot is very straightforward, and the characters aren't all that interesting. It's certainly not the best kids movie out there, but it's harmless and entertaining enough for an enjoyable first viewing with the family.