Hippo Manchester
August 25, 2005

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Valiant (G)
by Amy Diaz

Ewan McGregor wants to be Mel Gibson in Valiant, another animated bird movie, this one from Disney.

In Chicken Run, a stop-motion animation masterpiece, a pre-Passion Gibson gave Steve McQueen cool to a big talker named Rocky the Rooster. Rocky scammed a group of adoring chickens into making them think they could fly (flight equals freedom and freedom equals not becoming a key ingredient in chicken pot pie). The movie made heroes of a group of dizzy chickens and had me on the edge of my seat during the final escape attempt.

In Valiant, McGregor’s movie star voice is used to give nobility and pluckiness to a pigeon, the tiny Valiant. His character is not a reluctant hero but a gung-ho soldier who wants to join the war effort (the British WWII war effort, to be precise) and help “do his bit.” Aw, that’s sweet, sweet like the sugar burn of too much Pixie Dust.

This enthusiasm for enlisting in the Royal Homing Pigeon Service and having notes tied to one’s back is infectious enough to eventually rev up even skeptical, fast-talking London pigeon Bugsy (Ricky Gervais). After all, these stiff-upper-beak soldiers must outwit a squad of German falcons led by General Von Talon (Tim Curry, almost unrecognizable and utterly lacking in pep) and make contact with the French resistance led by a mouse named Charles De Girl (Sharon Horgan).

Along the way there are the expected brushes with danger and close calls but never once is there any sense that the pigeons will meet any actual harm nor do we particularly care what happens to any of them — even the comic-relief-providing sidekicks are bland as day-old bird seed. Even Curry can’t muster an even passably scary villain — Col. Klink was more formidable.

The movie shocks only in its lifelessness. It is much like McGregor’s last animated venture, Robots, a good-looking film with nothing in the way of story or characters to back it up. Like Robots, Valiant feels sterile and more like a marketing product, one that has cribbed from better movies, than a compelling story.

Which brings us back to Chicken Run, the children’s movie this most closely resembles. While the subject (British birds in peril) offers lots of similarities, that movie had genuine laughs, genuine scary parts and a real demonstration of consequences (early on, a chicken is turned into a pie). In Valiant, the film tries to cheat, using the dramatic setting of a war without giving a nod, even in chicken terms, to the reality of it. By scrubbing clean the action, the story scrubs itself clean of any resonance, any emotion and ultimately any point.