A very British attempt to emulate the success of recent animated hits, Valiant is amusing and affectionate WW2 pastiche that amuses and entertains but never quite hits the heights it aims for.
Is it me or are there more animated films about than there used to be? Last week saw Robots open at the cinemas and The Incredibles come out on DVD, whilst only a few weeks ago saw the arrival at local multiplexes of Spongebob Squarepants and The Magic Roundabout. Now we have a home-grown animated film featuring the voices of some heavyweight British talent including Ewan MacGregor, John Cleese and Ricky Gervais. Whilst some of it looks nice and some of the gags hit home it is a bit too slight to rank with some of the better animated films of recent years.
The concept of Valiant is to show World War 2 from the perspective of carrier pigeons. This is not as wacky as it sounds, as pigeons and other animals did actually carry out important wartime duties, even getting medals for their service. The film follows the now traditional war film plot of a band of misfits carrying out a difficult mission. It starts with the capture of an experienced carrier pigeon (John Cleese) and then shifts focus to a small but plucky bird named Valiant (McGregor) who is eager to enlist and become a war hero. On the way he meets the smelly Bugsy (Gervais) and after being knocked in to shape by a tough commanding officer (Jim Broadbent) soon finds himself across the Channel on a rescue mission.
In some ways Valiant is little bit like its protagonist: small, plucky and determined to stamp establish itself in a time of bigger and more ambitious offerings. There is a certain charm in how it spoofs and recreates WW2 films as well as more modern blockbusters (one shot in particular looks like a spoof of Armageddon) and the cast of voices does a solid job, with Ricky Gervais getting the best lines in the ‘comic sidekick’ role. The animation is also good, without ever being great, managing to define each pigeon character reasonably well. The villains (Nazi falcons) are also nicely designed and voiced although at times bear they bear a bit too much resemblance to characters from ‘Allo Allo!’.
While Valiant is a solid and amusing effort it does suffer from a lack of ambition or true inspiration. The story of a young outsider battling against the odds in order to become a hero has been done so many times before in films like The Lion King and even last weeks Robots that the central narrative is not as engaging as it should be. Plus, the concept reminded me strongly of Chicken Run, another British made film (albeit with US money) that featured birds in a wartime setting. That featured a stronger script and boasted more impressive visuals and it is hard not to see this film under its shadow. Perhaps British animated films should aim to be quirkier and more distinctive than box office giants like Finding Nemo and Shrek 2. Valiant is by no means a bad effort but it falls way below the bar set by the likes of Pixar and DreamWorks.
The official site is a rather thin flash based affair but has some nice images of all main characters. If you still find it hard to believe that pigeons played a role in World War Two then BBC News has an article from 1999 on the threat of ‘Nazi pigeons’. The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) has some information on the Dickin medal and you can listen to a Radio 4 programme on animals bravery in wartime.