By Shawn McKenzie 08/19/2005
I knew that it would happen eventually. I knew that the computer-animated free ride would slow down as soon as a mediocre movie came along. That movie is Valiant.
It’s May 1944, and three members of the elite Royal Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS) are flying over the English Channel to deliver messages to their contacts on the White Cliffs of Dover. Unfortunately, they never made it back, so Wing Commander Gutsy (voice of Hugh Laurie) puts out a call for new birds to join the RHPS. Valiant (voice of Ewan McGregor) is a short young pigeon who wants to do his part for the British allies in World War II. He sees the newsreel advertising the RHPS wanting new recruits to join their ranks and fight for their country. Since Gutsy is one of Valiant’s idols, he decides to sign up. He discusses this with Felix (voice of John Hurt), the crusty pelican with an eye patch and a peg leg made out of a pencil, down at Felix’s pub, The Gull. When a RHPS squad (which includes Gutsy) arrives to recruit some birds, Valiant is the first one to volunteer. The rest of the birds in the pub tease him because of his size, but, as he says, “It’s not the size of the wingspan that counts, but the size of the spirit.” He sets off to London to join the ranks of the RHPS, though his mother Elsa (voice of Annette Badland) doesn’t want him to go. When he arrives, a con artist named Bugsy (voice of Ricky Gervais) who has just hustled two birds (voices of Jonathan Ross and Mike Harbour) in a shell game, helps Valiant out (mainly because he wanted to use Valiant as a cover from the two birds.) He hypes up Valiant to the recruiter (voice of Harry Peacock), and the little bird is sent away to the training camp. Bugsy also enlists accidentally, and goes to the training camp as well. They meet Monty (voice of Jim Broadbent), their drill sergeant, along with their other fellow recruits. Brothers Toughwood (voice of Brian Lonsdale) and Tailfeather (voice of Dan Roberts) are enthusiastic, but not that smart, and Lofty (voice of Pip Torrens) is intelligent, but not much of a fighter, despite his family’s history of military service. Valiant and Bugsy will be the latest members of Squad F. They go through some intense training, which sends Valiant to the nursing station several times. That’s okay though, because he gets to meet nurse Victoria (voice of Olivia Williams), who heals him up every time. The two of course fall in love. While still in training, word comes down that Squad E has gone missing, and they need to send in Squad F to replace them, even though they aren’t ready yet. The mission is to fly to occupied France and deliver a message from the French Resistance back to England. It will be a dangerous mission, and they will have to learn to avoid the German Nazi falcons, which are larger and faster than the pigeons. Speaking of the falcons, General Von Talon (voice of Tim Curry) and his underlings Cufflingk (voice of Rik Mayall) and Underlingk (voice of Michael Schlingmann) have kidnapped one of the previous squadron’s pigeons named Mercury (voice of John Cleese), and are torturing him with polka music and yodeling to get him to squawk. Gutsy goes along with the new recruits in a bomber plane into enemy territory, but before it arrives, it is shot down. The squad parachutes to safety, though Gutsy may not have survived the plane crash. They meet with French Resistance mice Charles De Girl (voice of Sharon Horgan), master of sabotage Rollo (voice of Buckley Collum), and Resistance head Jacques (voice of Sean Samuels) to deliver the important message back to England. When Von Talon intercepts the message, Valiant realizes that he needs to get it back, along with rescuing Mercury, and his stature might prove to be useful after all.
Almost every computer-animated movie has gone on to become a huge hit, so that is probably why the era of traditionally animated movies is over. I knew that there would be a chink in the armor though eventually, and this movie shows what the problem is. It doesn’t matter how good the movie is…it’s the writing that counts. The movie isn’t very funny, unlike previously successful movies, such as Shrek, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. Kids will love it…but the really good animated movies entertain all ages, not just kids. There are some funny parts, like Valiant’s mother giving her son breakfast with a regurgitated worm and Mercury going crazy from an injection of truth serum, but they aren’t enough for me to give the movie a higher rating.
The vocal cast goes from just okay to boring. McGregor was the wrong choice to voice Valiant. I kept picturing Obi-Wan Kenobi voicing a little pigeon. They should have used an actor who had a younger and smaller voice (not a kid necessarily, but not McGregor.) Curry plays his millionth animated bad guy, so he was alright. Gervais could have been funnier for the sake of fans of the BBC show “The Office.” The same goes for fans of Laurie and FOX’s “House.” Cleese was a hoot though as the captured Mercury.
Valiant proves that a movie doesn’t need to be computer animated to be entertaining. Sure…it looked good, but without good writing, it won’t matter how cool it looks. This is the first feature produced for Disney by Vanguard Animation, the company that took over when talks with Pixar stalled. Vanguard obviously needs better writers, because computer animation alone isn’t going to cut it. I think that it will take the genius writing skills of “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to bring back traditional animation, because they will prove the point about the writing theory being the key element. The true sign of how enjoyable an animated movie is for me is if I have a desire to buy the DVD later for myself (since I don’t have kids.) This movie didn’t give me that desire.
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