It’s no big secret that Disney Animation is in a bit of a jam. Abandoning traditional hand-drawn animation, Disney then proceeded to cook its own goose by ruining their relationship with Pixar, who had up till that point provided all of Disney’s computer animated mojo. Looking to strike out on their own, Disney announced their first computer animated feature would be Chicken Little, a film which comes out later this year. But like a hawk in the night, Valiant has appeared, an imported British animated film by Vanguard Animation.
Valiant is a war movie for kids. Essentially it steals... er, borrows, key ideas from movies like The Dirty Dozen or Full Metal Jacket, particularly the idea of a rag tag bunch of misfits who undergo basic training and then enter the war to conquer the enemy, going to the ends of the earth (and past the bounds of common sense) to win the day. Only Valiant isn’t about soldiers, instead it tells the story of a bunch of carrier pigeons, specifically the new recruits of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS). Between these pigeons, and Chicken Little, one might surmise Disney has gone to the birds.
Valiant is the star of the movie, a young runt of a pigeon who dreams of carrying important messages over battlefields. Valiant is voiced by Ewan McGregor, proving that nobody saw Robots earlier this year because Ewan’s character here suffers many of the same problems his character in Robots did. Maybe Valiant is actually a parrot in disguise, copying issue for issue other Ewan McGregor roles. Valiant wants to join the RHPS and so he gets to join. There’s really no struggle to it to make things interesting. Valiant doesn’t have to really fight to prove himself in Rudy fashion. He simply accomplishes what he wants because it’s easier that way. Sure he gets a little flack for being small, but frankly when the only pigeons you have in the RHPS are the ones in boot camp, you can’t exactly get your feathers in a ruffle over who you let join. The movie lacks any sort of interesting plot before the pigeons join the fray, and Valiant quickly becomes an overly enthusiastic annoyance. Apparently people forget that when you have McGregor voicing a character people can’t see his good looks, meaning he has to be given something of substance to make up for it.
But it’s not fair to point the feather, er, finger solely at Ewan. Director Gary Chapman finds ways to misuse almost every single notable member of his cast. Take the villain for instance, the eye patched falcon Von Talon voiced by Tim Curry. Curry has proven numerous times that he has a penchant for playing the bad guy. I’d probably place several of Curry’s villainous creations on my top ten evil meanies of all time. But instead of wisely allowing us to hear Curry’s nefarious song of a voice, he is covered up with a German accent. Now it’s true, the enemy in the movie (set in 1944) are the Germans, but it's a crime to render Curry’s voice unrecognizable by obscuring it in Kraut. Unfortunately, Curry isn’t the only one to suffer. Thanks to animation that looks nothing like any of the actors, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, John Hurt, and Rik Mayall all get similar treatment.
Let me clarify. I’m not saying I’m looking for a pigeon that looks like John Cleese, but if you’re going to use such a notable actor the least you can do is give the character some of his characteristics. Maybe throw in a comment about the Norwegian Blue’s plumage while you're at it. Luckily Cleese’s voice is so distinguishable (they don’t cover it up with a German accent) that his character stands out. The same can be said for the ex-manager of “The Office” Ricky Gervais, as he brings the most life to any character in the movie in the form of the comedic sidekick Bugsy.
So the movie lacks character depth. It also lacks wit. It’s almost as if the film is too chicken to take that crucial step and add jokes for the sake of a laugh from adult audiences. It’s a real shame too, because while they are willing to make a dozen bad bird puns, there’s not one about a small boned bird named “Valiant”. That’s not only poor writing, it’s fowl planning through and through.
We still haven't hit on the film's biggest problem yet. Here it is: It’s just boring. I don’t mean it’s one of those movies that bores adults to tears while kids laugh at the meaningless stuff we don’t understand. I mean it’s boring, regardless of the audience. As I watched I became painfully aware that while the film was going nowhere, the audience was. Kids were fast becoming restless, and several around me even asked their parents when they could go. With the exception of Gervais’s crazy antics, the kids were not amused by what they saw. While I'd hoped that Disney might be on their way to finding a partner worthy of replacing Pixar, no such cluck. This bird’s got no wings.