- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

“Valiant,” a computer-animated adventure comedy set on the eve of the D-Day invasion, harmonizes with a venerable tradition of Anglophilia at the Disney studio. It salutes the exploits of a novice squadron of carrier pigeons recruited for cross-channel courier duty by a branch of the British Armed Forces that some might tend to underrate, the Royal Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS). The title character, dubbed by Ewan McGregor, is an undersized and ingenuous but plucky country bird who completes an accelerated basic training course with four other unpromising mates just in time to be parachuted into Occupied France.

Their rendezvous with the Resistance, hilariously embodied by an intrepid pair of mice, Charles de Girl and her crazed, incendiary companion Rollo, is menaced going and returning by Wehrmacht caricatures under the command of a Prussian falcon called Gen. von Talon, which brings out an appropriate accent and arrogance in Tim Curry. Based inside an artillery bunker on the French coast, the general and his flunkies have already captured a stouthearted RHPS agent named Mercury, who provides John Cleese with a wonderfully voluble opportunity, especially when Mercury is babbling under the influence of truth serum.

Valiant’s size allows him to penetrate the von Talon lair by flying down the barrel of a gigantic cannon. Having rescued Mercury and his own squadron pal Bugsy (an unkempt Cockney pigeon dubbed by Ricky Gervais), the hero is pursued all the way back to his home village. During this ordeal, Valiant is protecting a top secret message that turns out to be a nonsensical contribution to the elaborate deceptions invented to conceal the Normandy landings.

The writers display a winning aptitude for the patriotic sentiments and cliches of the period, particularly fortitude in a “stiff upper beak” idiom. The animators prove even more resourceful at featherweight characterization, presenting us with so many diverting cartoon birds, blessed with such distinctive comic personalities, that it doesn’t trouble you that the filmmakers are probably working under relatively tight budget constraints.

“Valiant” is not a project Disney originated. It’s the first in a co-production deal with a company called Vanguard, which recently ventured into animation and maintains studios in both Los Angeles and London (at the revamped Ealing Studios). Nimble and attractive, the movie illustrates weapons, planes, ships and war-torn settings with a knowing familiarity and alacrity, drawing on cartoon prototypes from World War II.

The apparent constraint is that the filmmakers keep a tight rein on spectacle. A fleeting evocation may work better than lavish illustration, anyway. For example, Valiant uses an approaching ship as protection while trying to evade the pursuing von Talon. A moment later you realize that the birds have encountered the invasion fleet steaming across the English Channel.

The songbook includes two irresistible evocations: Edith Piaf’s “Non je ne regrette rien,” inevitably reserved for the French Resistance interlude, and Ricky Gervais’ overreaching attempt to warble a few bars of “The White Cliffs of Dover,” perhaps in mock-homage to Vera Lynn. The musical gags work out so well that you rather wish the movie had found room for more.

***

TITLE: “Valiant”

RATING: G (Fleeting comic vulgarity)

CREDITS: Directed by Gary Chapman. Produced by John H. Williams. Screenplay by Jordan Katz, George Webster and George Melrod, based on an original story by Mr. Webster. Animation director: Richard Purdum. Cinematography by John Fenner. Production design by John Byrne. Art direction by Carl Jones. Character development: Jim Feeley, David Krentz and Ralph Zondag. Music by George Fenton

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes

WEB SITE: www.valiantmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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