Valiant

on August 19, 2005 by Wade Major
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Back when the Disney/Pixar relationship began to get rocky, the Disney folks naturally went shopping for other possible alliances and ended up cementing a deal to acquire "Valiant," an independently produced CGI-animated feature from "Shrek" producer John H. Williams and British-based Vanguard Animation. As it turns out, it was probably a pretty good gamble -- the animation aspires to, but doesn't match, the look of Pixar and DreamWorks' PDI, just as it also aspires to, but doesn't match, the snappy British wit of something like "Chicken Run," by fellow UK animators Aardman. But just those aspirations, as it turns out, are enough to keep the picture aloft, much as its undersized lead character stays aloft with a compensatory combination of gritty determination and good old-fashioned English patriotism.

Valiant (Ewan McGregor) is the name of a stout little pigeon who dreams of joining the Royal Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS) whose job it is to get messages across the British Channel and into the hands of the French resistance without being intercepted -- or killed -- by the vicious Nazi falcons who patrol the French coast. It's a dream which he seems wholly unqualified to pursue until an elite squad of pigeons is wiped out, necessitating desperate recruitment measures by the RHPS. And so the door is open for Valiant to join up, along with other assorted rag-tag enlistees, including a rascally, cowardly street bird named Bugsy (Ricky Gervais of "The Office"). But will they be able to fulfill their mission? It's a question that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats for a solid 75 minutes... unless they're familiar with "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Tepidly humorous writing and a well-worn narrative structure are "Valiant"'s primary handicaps, though the presence of A-list British vocal talent like John Cleese, John Hurt, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Rik Mayall, Olivia Williams and Tim Curry (in a brilliant turn as chief Nazi falcon General von Talon) work wonders to make the film seem better than it really is.

In the end, "Valiant" is a safe and promising inaugural venture for Vanguard -- whatever the future brings, be it a relationship with Disney or another studio -- John Williams and co. have staked a very respectable claim to a portion of the growing field of CGI-animated features. Voiced by Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Tim Curry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, John Hurt, Pip Torrens, Rik Mayall and Olivia Williams. Directed by Gary Chapman. Written by Jordan Katz, George Webster and George Melrod. Produced by John H. Williams. A Buena Vista release. Animated/Family. Rated G. Running time: 78 min

Tags: Voiced by Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Tim Curry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, John Hurt, Pip Torrens, Rik Mayall, Olivia Williams, Directed by Gary Chapman, Written by Jordan Katz, George Webster, George Melrod, Produced by John H. Williams, Buena Vista, Animated, Family
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