½*/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras D
screenplay by Jordan Katz, George Webster, George Melrod
directed by Gary Chapman
by Walter Chaw The animation is flat, the screenplay is insipid, the pacing is mortally off, and the voice acting is the mixed bag you generally get when you hire movie stars instead of professional voice talent (this is already the second animated film Ewan McGregor's tackled this year--third if you count Lucas's folly) to breathe life into your pixellated creations. But other than that, Valiant's fantastic. Its setting (WWII, circa D-Day) isn't as imaginative as that of Robots (this year's other glaring animated failure), and its CGI housefly sidekicks don't talk, as they did in Racing Stripes (this year's other glaring made-for-kids animal-related failure), but if you can overlook its obvious and subtle and inescapable deficiencies, well, what you have here is a blockbuster simply waiting to have its destiny fulfilled by the same group that flocked to the inexplicably popular Shrek films. Valiant's central marketing point is that it's from the same producer, John H. Williams, as the Shrek franchise, which, while technically true, ignores the movie's ten other producers.
There has to be a limit to the amount of animated misogyny, fart jokes, and stock characters the popular audience can stomach after what must go down as one of the most woeful summer movie seasons since the distinction started being made. Consider that Valiant isn't even good in comparison to the usual run-of-the-mill swill--that people who liked the Shrek flicks may actually try to prove their sophistication amongst themselves by rejecting this pale imitation of an embarrassing cultural artifact. It's good to have dreams.
The deficient hero is Valiant (McGregor), an undersized squab who joins the Royal Homing Pigeon Squad during WWII after their ranks are decimated by a neo-Red Baron, German falcon/Marlene Dietrich manqué Von Talon (Tim Curry, no doubt in heaven swathed in so much leather and feathers). A subplot involves the torture of one such POW ("Pigeon of War," Valiant's brain-dead punsters will hasten to prod us--they have a future in modern film criticism should they never get another screenwriting gig), Mercury (John Cleese), who at one point loses his mind and comes dangerously close to resuscitating Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch. Almost all of the humour otherwise involves the pigeons flying into objects and one another and the smelly fat one (Ricky Gervais) burping and flatulating, while a late appearance by a pair of rodent French freedom fighters uncomfortably pings off the parents in the audience's cobwebbed memories of The Rescuers.
Diagnose the malignance of the project in a gag involving Valiant's wooing ("Cooing!") of non-descript nurse dove Victoria (Olivia Williams), wherein he provides her with a daisy that, it turns out, is just the wrapping for a nice juicy bug. Not hysterical, but by this point in the film we're hungry for anything resembling clever. Later, though, both Valiant and Victoria are seen cherishing daisies--which, in the film's self-established logic, would be the equivalent of attaching a great deal of sentimental value to the green foil in which a bouquet comes wrapped. It's possible that this is the case, but I suspect it's more likely that the filmmakers are as bankrupt in respecting their own world as they are every other.
I did like a grotesque moment where it's revealed that Von Talon has a shelf crammed with stuffed pigeons he's dispatched (a splash of danger in what's otherwise thin, pre-chewed gruel), but an island of discomfort in an ocean of passive consent is cold comfort. You can say that the fact that all the girl pigeons are portrayed as witless bimbos is a satire of '40s-era attitudes and propaganda flicks, but kids won't read it as satire and instead think it reflects contemporary values. There's a big difference between not talking down to your audience and sending entirely the wrong message over and over again. It'd be a bigger deal if anyone were actually going to go see Valiant, of course, and in the grand scheme of things the film's not as dispiriting as the hate and violence of Shark Tale, but it does bear mentioning, if only in passing. A lot like Valiant itself. Tidy. Originally published: August 19, 2005.
by Bill Chambers Disney presents Valiant on DVD in a plastic-fantastic 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image is crystalline and that's a blessing and a curse: Lacking the celluloid remove of Warner's recent release of The Polar Express, Valiant frequently has the texture of a hi-res download--which, as extended exposure to Flash animation will tell you, can be awfully disengaging after a while. Still, the video presentation is unimpeachable in and of itself. More problematic is the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, whose mismatched dialogue and effects levels require a constant riding of the remote control. A one-minute "blooper reel" (the nadir for this sort of thing--it's full of fart jokes), juvenile set-top "Valiant Training Challenge," trailers for Lady and the Tramp, Kronk's New Groove, the Studio Ghibli collection, Sky High, Bambi II, Toy Story 2, and "Power Rangers S.P.D.", and Disney Movie Surfers segments on The Wild and The Shaggy Dog round out the disc. Originally published: December 13, 2005.