There is precisely one clever moment in “Valiant,” the animated film about pigeons who help the Allies in World War II, and it’s at the very beginning. It’s a newsreel, in convincing black-and-white, in which an excited narrator urges young birds to enlist in the Royal Homing Pigeon Society. The pretty nurses are all doves! It is the duty of every British bird to come to the aid of his country!
The rest of “Valiant” is slack and unimaginative, nicely animated (on computers, not by hand) but with no great characters or any amusing dialogue. It feels obligatory, like the boss barged in and said, “I want a movie about pigeons who help the British war effort on my desk by Monday morning!,” and so everyone had to do it even though they didn’t have any good ideas for it.
The title character (voice of Ewan McGregor) is an eager young pigeon who wants to join up and work alongside his hero, Gutsy (Hugh Laurie), a dashing and rugged carrier pigeon who has successfully delivered many messages over the course of the war. Valiant is small and scrawny, but he enlists anyway, alongside a filthy pigeon (pardon the redundancy) named Bugsy (Ricky Gervais), a con artist who works the streets of London who joins the RHPS only because his new pal Valiant leads him into it.
There are three other recruits, a bookworm named Lofty (Pip Torrens) and two jock brothers named Toughwood (Brian Lonsdale) and Tailfeather (Dan Roberts). All three are utterly devoid of personality — a real shame when you consider that with only five recruits in the platoon, it would have been easy for the film to give them all something fun to do.
Trained by the indefatigable Sergeant (Jim Broadbent), the birds are sent out into the skies before they’re fully ready, the urgency of the war demanding their help immediately. They go to Paris, meet with the mouse division of the French Resistence, and avoid the Nazi falcons (real falcons, not airplanes called falcons).
Ricky Gervais, known as the buffoonish boss on “The Office,” plays the same sort of idiot here, to mixed results. Bugsy is an amusing character, but he’s too one-note — a lazy coward — to sustain himself for the whole film. And no one else is even mildly interesting.
Written by Jordan Katz, George Webster and George Melrod and directed by Gary Chapman — none of them with any significant animated-film experience — “Valiant” moves quickly and with focus, but to no great purpose. The jokes you would expect, where the standard elements of a war movie are translated to the world of birds, are largely absent; a Nazi falcon interrogator telling a captured pigeon “We haff vays of making you squawk!” is the best they can come up with.
The birds get into scrapes and eventually save the day, but obviously you need more than that to make something worth watching. This lacks the fervor and wit that an animated film for kids ought to have. But, then, the boss didn’t say the pigeon movie had to be any GOOD, he just said he had to be done by Monday.
C- (1 hr., 16 min.; )