Valiant (United Kingdom, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Valiant is for the birds. Arguably the blandest of the burgeoning crop of big budget digitally animated films, Valiant aims to prove that the death of traditional animation has simply pushed lackluster screenplays into the digital realm. Until recently, digital animation had been heads-and-shoulders about its longer-lived counterpart because each film was lovingly crafted with an attention to detail. Over the past year, however, digitally animated films have begun to show an assembly line quality, and Valiant represents a new low. It's not as clever as it thinks it is, not as funny or exciting as it should be, and not as engaging as it needs to be to prevent kids from losing interest and parents from falling asleep.

It's 1944, and the Allies are preparing for D-Day. Valiant (voice of Ewan McGregor) is an undersized pigeon who wants to join the Royal Carrier Pigeon Force and ferry messages back and forth between England and the French Resistance. With Germany's dangerous falcon, Von Talon (Tim Curry), frequently downing pigeons, the corps can't afford to be picky about its recruits, so unlikely candidates such as Valiant and his scruffy friend, Bugsy (Ricky Gervais), are allowed to sign up. After going through "boot camp" under the tutelage of a hard-nosed sergeant (Jim Broadbent), Valiant is sent on a mission to France to rescue a captured courier (John Cleese) and retrieve a crucial message. The mission's commander is the revered Gutsy (Hugh Laurie), perhaps the most decorated pigeon. But things go wrong and Valiant and his comrades find themselves trapped behind enemy lines.

It's necessary to ask a fundamental question about Valiant. Who is the target audience? The WWII backstory will have no meaning to viewers under 10, and the storyline doesn't offer much for viewers who are older. The film is plodding, predictable, and uninteresting. There's nothing fresh or inspired about any aspect of the storytelling. Young kids might be amused by some of the slapstick antics, but the humor isn't going to tickle the funny bones of older children or adults. (At the public screening I attended, there was virtually no laughter, and the auditorium was packed with families.) The action scenes generate little tension or suspense.

The voices are provided by an impressive array of names - it's a cast worthy of better material. John Cleese, Jim Broadbent, Ricky Gervais, and Hugh Laurie are the only ones whose vocal performances exhibit any gusto. Tim Curry sounds like he's doing an impersonation of Tim the Enchanter from The Holy Grail (odd, considering that he's currently appearing in "Spamalot" on Broadway). Everyone else, including Ewan McGregor and John Hurt, sound bored. With this film and Robots on his animated resume, it's time for McGregor to give up the voice work and return to live-action.

The most disappointing thing about Valiant is the pedestrian quality of the animation. Strictly speaking, it's not bad but, after the advances of films like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, this film takes a giant step backwards. At times, it has a rough, unfinished look. Facial expressions are less flexible than in many other digitally animated films. Backgrounds frequently lack detail. I don't know how long it took to make Valiant; however, judging purely by the evidence on the screen, it seems to have been put together quickly and cheaply. This is not a strong argument for first-time director Gary Chapman being granted another shot.

In a way, Valiant is a stopgap for both British animation and Disney (the distributor). Fans of the former are eagerly awaiting the next Wallace and Gromit film, which is due out in the fall. And Disney is already stoking up the publicity engine to generate excitement for their first in-house digitally animated project, Chicken Little (opens November 4, 2005). As for Valiant, its limited appeal will likely result in a short box office life. It's sad to realize that the most entertaining portion of the Valiant theater-going experience is watching the 5-minute "short" that represents the Ice Age 2 trailer.

Valiant (United Kingdom, 2005)

Run Time: 1:16
U.S. Release Date: 2005-08-19
MPAA Rating: "G" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1