For all its computer-animated flourishes, Valiant has a dainty, retro charm and a firm focus, even if it is a slight, short diversion unlikely to end up in a movie-loving kid’s permanent rotation.
As a computer-animated production at half the budget, the film is mostly on visual par with comparable films, but the fuzzes and blurs of digital corner-cutting occasionally show.
Inspired by actual carrier pigeons who delivered important communications to Allied forces during World War II, Valiant is the story of one very small bird’s big wish to help out with the cause. Inspired by a recruitment speech from carrier-pigeon poster-boy Gutsy (voice of Hugh Laurie), Valiant (voice of Ewan McGregor) flies to London to enlist for this very dangerous task.
The problem is, as a pigeon guard puts it, he’s not even “yea high, let alone hey high.” But with the help of a smooth-talking, rough-feathered Trafalgar Square pigeon named Bugsy (voice of Ricky Gervais), Valiant gets his chance. And along with the reluctant Bugsy and the rest of “F Squad” (the sixth-tier team), Valiant embarks on a crucial mission to meet with a pair of French mice, deliver a crucial message and avoid the angry claws of the evil General Von Talon (voice of Tim Curry).
It’s a wise decision to keep Valiant for the birds. It’s a touching moment when, while debating to stick with it, Bugsy and Valiant discuss the consequences of a dropped bomb in their world. When wide-open spaces start getting bombed, where will the birds go? The avian anxiety over doing their part is peppered throughout the 75-minute film and, while not violent, it’s straightforward about war.
But its short running time also means some cut corners, namely involving Bugsy’s questionable backbone. Gervais’ manic vocal work, though, makes Bugsy the movie’s comic highpoint. He’s like David Brent (Gervais’ character from the original BBC series of The Office) as a bird, always in trouble whenever he opens his mouth, which is all the time.
The remainder of the humor is dryly British, as it should be, but not in an inaccessible way for the younger viewers. They will have as much fun with the inventive twists on bird environs (a tipped-over canoe as a watering hole, a cut-apart oil barrel as a barracks) and daffy supporting characters such as the pigeon Mercury (voiced by John Cleese) and the fire-loving French mouse Sabotage.
Valiant is a fine effort with a sweet message. It understands how to use history both as a killer punch line in the finale and as a tool to teach kids about a lesser-known aspect of past war efforts.