US Release Date: 08-19-2005
Directed by: Gary Chapman
- Ewan McGregor, as
- Valiant (voice)
- Ricky Gervais, as
- Bugsy (voice)
- Tim Curry, as
- Von Talon (voice)
- Jim Broadbent, as
- Sergeant (voice)
- Hugh Laurie, as
- Gutsy (voice)
- John Cleese, as
- Mercury (voice)
- John Hurt, as
- Felix (voice)
- Pip Torrens, as
- Lofty (voice)
- Rik Mayall, as
- Cufflingk (voice)
- Olivia Williams as
- Victoria (voice)
No other war in history was more ready made for Hollywood than World War II. The Nazis make such perfect villains that when they're involved no one ever questions the rightness of fighting them. The question is, will children of today appreciate this and know enough about them to enjoy a cartoon that celebrates the many classic war movies that have come before it?
Ewan McGregor provides the voice for Valiant, a pigeon short on wing span, but large in spirit who joins the Royal Homing Pigeon Corps to do his part for King and Country. In grand tradition, he joins a squadron of misfits who will some how shape up into becoming heroes. There's Bugsy (Ricky Gervais), the borderline criminal/comic relief, the upper class Lofty, and the bickering brothers Toughwood and Tailfeathers. And for inspiration, there is Gutsy (Hugh Laurie), a RAF fighter pilot type complete with aviator sunglasses.
Together, this plucky little band must go deep into occupied France and return with a message from the French resistance -- in this case a couple of plucky mice -- that could be crucial to the war effort. Along the way they must do battle with the evil Von Talon, a falcon voiced by Tim Curry. They've also got to find a missing pigeon named Mercury who's voiced by the legendary John Cleese.
For anyone who grew up watching old World War II movies, there's a lot to recommend this movie. It playfully tweaks many of the conventions from them, but with respect and with a sense of duty that Hollywood has only ever shown toward WWII. This makes it entertaining enough for grown ups, but many of the jokes are aimed at children, and I wonder how they will react to them.
Of all the many characters in the film, it is Bugsy who steals the show as the larcenous pigeon only out for number one, that is until the moment of truth arrives and he comes through for the team. Gervais, still hot off his role in The Office, does great work here.
At a mere 80 minutes, Valiant flies by a fast clip. I enjoyed it, but then I grew up on a diet of war movies such as The Longest Day and The Great Escape. Will the children of the day enjoy it all the same? It's already proven itself a hit in England, but there it also has the benefit of being voiced by many recognizable British actors. How many American children are going to recognize Jim Broadbent?
As far as my sons go, Valiant held little to no interest for them. I guess, and this is only the guess of a father of two, but I think the problem was that the main characters are birds. How can my kids relate to birds as action heroes. When they like a movie they want related toys to play with and will sometimes reenact scenes from the movie in their play. Birds just do not interest them enough.
I, like Scott, grew up on World War II movies and so I personally loved this film. My favorite part was the great John Cleese being held by the evil Von Talon. “I'm a vegetarian." says Von Talon to Mercury, who replies, “And yet you wear a leather cape." Von Talon is trying to get Mercury to talk so he tortures him by playing a yodeling record.
The British cast does a great job. Ewan, at 34, has a great sounding voice for an eager young bird wanting to serve his country. Tim Curry has a very distinct voice and has now lent his voice to more animated roles than anyone I can think of. From FernGully: The Last Rainforest(1992) through Rugrats Go Wild(2003) and dozens of tv voice over work in between, Curry must be the go to guy to when someone needs a characters voice.
Valiant proves one important point that I have been trying to make since computerized animation became huge with Toy Story. The point is that the actual animation of a movie does not make or break the film. Toy Story was a great movie because of it's great plot and relatable subject. The animation was good but it did not make or break the movie. Valiant has great computerized animation but the subject of birds as heroes is too unfamiliar to be interesting to kids.
Photos © Copyright Buena Vista Pictures (2005)