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Valiant is a 2005 British computer-animated film produced by Vanguard Animation and Odyssey Entertainment, and released by Entertainment Film Distributors in the United Kingdom on March 25, 2005 and by Walt Disney Pictures in the United States on August 19, 2005. Set in May of the year 1944, it tells the story of a group of war pigeons during World War II. Reviews of Valiant were mixed and largely poor. The film is based on a story by Jordan Katz, George Webster, and George Melrod, and inspired by true stories of hundreds of pigeons that helped the soldiers in the war. At the end of the film, it says that of the 54 Dickin Medals awarded to animals, 32 of them went to pigeons. In May 1944, 5 years since the declaration of World War II, three Royal Homing Pigeon Service war pigeons are flying across the English Channel with the White Cliffs of Dover in sight, carrying vital messages to Great Britain. Despite the poor weather conditions the pigeons have nearly reached their destination. They are, however, suddenly ambushed and attacked by a German enemy falcon called General Von Talon; two of the pigeons are instantly killed, yet the third is taken as a prisoner of war.
It's easy to see why the money is going elsewhere. Valiant clocks in at just below 80 minutes, and it feels padded. The typical Disney trademarks of untested heroes, sarcastic sidekicks, and puppy love are offered, but they feel like hand-me-downs, worn ragged by Aladdin, Timon, and the rest. Nothing in Valiant is larger than life, including the villains, always a staple. Tim Curry voices an evil falcon, and his work won't make anyone forget Jeremy Irons' Scar anytime soon.
Really, it's hard to imagine why Valiant didn't go straight to DVD. It isn't terrible, but would you pay $10 to see pigeons repeatedly collide in mid-air and to hear more than a few references to body odors? The movie is barely original, except that the topic is below the radar of public consciousness. In World War II, pigeons carried messages to the Allied Forces, and some actually received medals recognizing their service.
That's interesting. More than a few people would probably want to learn more about that historical aspect, and that could be the basis for a tension-packed plot. With Valiant, Disney sticks to that formula of goofy nonchalance - this time without music - and the results are vexing. Here's an opportunity to pursue a completely different direction, to teach kids some history, as well as creating a high-flying drama. Instead, we get a flatulent pigeon. Ah, progress.
The story, such as it is, focuses on an undersized but determined pigeon named Valiant (voiced by Ewan McGregor) who longs to serve in the Royal Homing Pigeon Service, the group of brave birds who deliver those important messages. On his way to the academy, he joins forces with a conniving, crafty pigeon, Bugsy (Ricky Gervais, brilliant in The Office), and they're soon fumbling and bumbling through training with three other misfits. When the ranks of messengers become low, the trainees are forced into service for a risky mission of critical importance for the Allies.
If you like the story, then sit back and enjoy. I spent my time guessing who provided the characters' voices and then feeling sorry the actors couldn't find better work elsewhere. The level of talent here (John Hurt, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, Jim Broadbent) deserves better, and so does the audience. If Disney doesn't take creative chances with their stories and animation, they'll continue to be ravaged (and deservedly so) by Pixar and DreamWorks SKG.
Disney's next big animation project is Chicken Little, slated for release this fall. If it fails, both critically and commercially, the title will take on a particularly morbid tone.
DVD extras include a blooper reel and some games for the kids.
For the birds.