Valiant is the story of a small pigeon who becomes a big hero in England’s World War II-era Royal Air Force Homing Pigeon Service, proving to all that the key to courage is “not the size of your wingspan, but your spirit.”
The computer animation in this British import is lovely, the action is clever, the voiceover talent is terrific and the whole movie is entertaining (in the way that Brits making fun of themselves always tends to be always hilarious).
Alas, while the subject matter of Valiant certainly holds deep emotional sway in Britain, but it doesn’t bear the same appeal elsewhere. How many American tots relate to World War II, much less to the role that animals — mostly carrier pigeons and dogs — played in Britain’s courageous struggle against the Nazis? Therein lies Valiant‘s problem — and its solution.
The best way for kids to enjoy Valiant — and the movie is good enough to warrant taking the extra effort — is for parents to share a pre-movie history lesson. Carrier pigeons saved thousands of lives in the war (35 of the birds were actually given medals), and the Germans really did train a force of pigeon-eating falcons to prey on them. These fascinating facts give the film the exciting back-story it needs.
Valiant (voice of Ewan McGregor) longs to follow in the formation led by his idol, medal-adorned Gutsy (voice of Hugh Laurie). Despite his mother’s worries, Valiant bids adieu to his seagull pals, flies off from his happy seaside home and flaps eagerly to Trafalgar Square. There he meets Bugsy (voice of Ricky Gervais), a scheming London con artist, and together they maneuver their way into military service.
Just in time, too. The nasty Third Reich falcons, led by evil Von Talon (voice of Tim Curry) from his scary bunker hideaway across the English Channel, have decimated the flying messenger ranks. Valiant and his buddies transform themselves from bumbling birdbrains into daring, fearless fliers, giving viewers breathtaking cloud-high views of England. Their aerobatic training over Stonehenge is especially unforgettable.
Holding the fate of the freedom-loving world in their feathers, the newly trained squad parachutes into war-torn France, landing near a burned-out cathedral. There they meet the mice division of the French Resistance: Charles de Girl and her partner, Rollo, a manic, flame-throwing saboteur.
From here, it’s one high-flying adventure after another as Valiant must enter Von Talon’s lair by himself, rescue the hapless pigeon prisoner of war, Mercury (voice of John Cleese), retrieve the crucial message and fly it back to the cliffs of Dover in time to redirect the Allied naval forces to a new secret landing location: Normandy.
Through all his adversities, Valiant remembers the soaring words of his commander: “May you fly straight and may your instinct fly you home.” Rated G
— reviewed by Marci Miller