`Valiant' spoofs old war movies, badly

It's British pigeons vs. Nazi falcons

Movie Reviews

August 19, 2005|By Roger Moore | Roger Moore,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Valiant in name. But Valiant in aim? Or effort?

It's a "stiff upper beak" comedy about heroic British homing pigeons fending off Nazi falcons as they bravely carry messages from the French Resistance to the Allies on the eve of D-Day.

It's a perfectly competent cartoon, if rarely a thing of beauty. It's occasionally funny -- so long as you get that whole "Never so few" Battle of Britain fighter-squadron milieu and Monty Python's famous skewering of it.

Not that your average 5- to 10-year-old will. Pixar and DreamWorks have gotten away with this cartoons-not-really-pitched-to-children thing with Shrek and The Incredibles.

Vanguard, the studio that made Valiant for Disney, doesn't. It's the story of a shrimpy pigeon named Valiant, voiced by Ewan McGregor, who longs to join the Royal Homing Pigeon Service to do his bit for the war effort.

It's May of 1944, and the Allies are about to liberate Europe. Pigeons fly messages, with groups of escort pigeons as their "wingmen," a funny combat cliche straight out of any WWII fighter or bomber pilots drama, or Star Wars. New pigeons are recruited by a silly "News on the March" newsreel parody in the opening moments of Valiant.

Valiant notices how the chicks dig a bird in uniform. So he's off to London, where he falls in with Bugsy (Ricky Gervais), a con-pigeon with a gift for shell games.

They're the last dregs to be recruited into the corps, where they're trained by a drill sergeant voiced with some gusto by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent.

Meanwhile, poor Mercury (John Cleese) is being tortured by Von Talon, an eye-patched falcon voiced by Tim Curry.

Will the new recruits fly over, get the latest intelligence from the mice and complete the mission, saving D-Day?

One character is a pyromaniacal saboteur rodent who is a French-accented version of Animal from The Muppets. One pigeon's a rich twit, joined by a head-bonking pair of bird brothers, and led by the hero, Gutsy (Hugh Laurie).

Freedom must be preserved, and there are shapely doves to fly home to if you succeed. Only the sputtering Broadbent, Gervais as an unbathed gas-passing belcher, and Cleese as a primly closeted pigeon-of-war who embraces his love of pink when the truth serum is injected, make vocal impressions.

Curry has worn out his villain's voice, and animators should stop hiring McGregor for this stuff. Scottish accent or no, he's bland.

It's watchable. But try explaining all of this not-particularly funny adult history, humor and clutter to a child.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Valiant

Voices: Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Tim Curry, John Cleese

Directed by: Gary Chapman

Released by: Buena Vista

Rated: G

Time: 80 minutes

SUN SCORE * * (2 STARS)

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