Visuals soar in 'Valiant,' but plot misses its mark
Friday, August 19, 2005

Nothing says a children's movie like ... World War II, especially when it features shots of airplanes in flames and a bombed-out church.

Walt Disney Pictures
A brave-but-undersized pigeon named Valiant, right, realizes his dream of becoming a member of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service, and is joined by new recruits, left to right, Lofty, Tailfeather, and Toughwood in "Valiant."
Click photo for larger image.


Rating: G.

Starring: Voices of Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Tim Curry.

Director: Gary Chapman

"Valiant" Web site

"Valiant" is an animated, G-rated film that seems aimed not at youngsters, judging by their restlessness at a recent preview, but their grandparents.

That's because the littlest moviegoers won't be able to read the information flashed on screen as the story opens -- "English Channel, May 1944" -- or know what was happening on the world stage then. They also may not understand the reference to the French Resistance or appreciate a mouse named Charles De Girl or the movie's printed coda, about medals awarded to animals for heroic service.

In a summer of dumb, dumber and dumbest movies, there is nothing wrong with aiming high, but filmmakers need to know their audience, and these filmmakers miss their target by a country mile.

"Valiant," directed by Englishman Gary Chapman, is about a spunky wood pigeon named Valiant (voice of Ewan McGregor) who joins the elite Royal Homing Pigeon Service. A wee bird with a small wingspan and enormous spirit, Valiant becomes a member of the aptly named Squad F, as does a smelly but lovable con artist named Bugsy (Ricky Gervais' voice).

They, improbably, become the go-to squad when more experienced birds are captured or killed by enemy falcons, led by Gen. Von Talon (voice by Tim Curry), sporting a Nazi blond buzz cut. In the end, it's up to Valiant to try to save his comrades, outsmart the villains and deliver a message that will prove a turning point in the war.

The voice talent here is first-rate, with McGregor, Gervais and Curry joined by Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, John Hurt and others. And it's evident the artists took care with the details in virtually everything you see, from the verdant English countryside and the birds' feathery chests to dandelion seeds that explode in a milky cloud.

But that leads back to the story, which is too adult, too humorless and too far removed from its intended audience, especially in this country. The filmmakers give it a valiant try ... but fail.

First published on August 19, 2005 at 12:00 am
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri can be reached at or 412-263-1632.
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