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VALIANT , USA , 2005

It is a fact that during World War II animals took part in the war effort and that some of them, just like their human counterparts, won medals for their deeds, dogs, one cat, and even pigeons were involved. Disney’s animated film, VALIANT, is not one of those stories. It’s also not a film that shows much imagination as far as the plot line is concerned, but what it lacks in originality, or veracity, it makes up for with heart. Taking advantage of the idiom of war movies, and specifically the stiff-upper-lip variety that came out of Britain during and just after WWII, the film is suffused with the same pluck and optimism of its eponymous pigeon hero.


Valiant (voiced with boyish eagerness by Ewan McGregor) is an undersized pigeon who longs to do his bit for freedom by joining the Royal Homing Pigeon Service, RHPS for short, a branch of the military tasked with getting messages back and forth between England and occupied France. There are dangers lurking in that, though, from the dangerous weather over the Channel, to the vicious falcons that the Nazis are using to counter the RHPS. That doesn’t deter Valiant, especially after his hero, Gutsy (Hugh Laurie), a strapping example of birdhood with the stiffest of upper lips and a silk scarf that always seems to be wafting heroically in the wind returns from missions with tales of derring-do.


It’s the classic, or perhaps stale, series of events from there. The tearful farewell with his mom (who regurgitates a worm for him to take along), the chance meeting with a less than reputable type, Bugsy (Ricky Gervais of “The Office”) who becomes Valiant's best pal, the coward who ends up in the service with him, the basic training with a group of misfits that tests his mettle, the attractive dove in the infirmary, and, of course, the mission that will save the day and the nation that only Valiant can pull off. Even a less than savvy audience knows everything that will happen before it does, but Valiant and his pals are so, well, adorable, the ride is worth taking, not the least for John Cleese’s voicing of a captured RHPS courier holding his own, sort of, against the evil Nazi falcon (Tim Curry’s mellifluously evil tones) using truth serum and audio torture to get information out of him. It’s the non-sequitors, such as a sudden need to feng shui his cage/cell that liven things up.


As for Valiant, he’s plucky, stalwart, and a perfect straight man for Bugsy, whose aversion to birdbaths has left him with scruffy feathers and three fly companions who also serve as his best friends. The dialogue could be lifted, more or less, from films of the period, but there’s something about a crew-cut falcon saying that he has ways of making someone squawk that is just adorable instead of obvious or cliche. Sight gags abound, too, as do the first-rate computer animation that renders the characters into 3-D models and gets the details of feathers and pounding waves spot on.


VALIANT is not a laugh riot, but it is an amusing and sweet diversion with a dash of dry wit and the courage of its convictions.

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