Move over Woody, Buzz and the gang, the Brits are coming. Who needs Nemo when we can have a perky little carrier pigeon and his flea-ridden sidekick? With Wallace and Gromit going down a storm in the US box-office it seems like British animation has established itself as a force to be reckoned with. Valiant is (as far as I'm aware) our first attempt at a Pixar style CGI animated movie and considering the length of time it has taken studios like Pixar to master their craft, is a surprisingly accomplished first effort. It doesn't quite have the polish of its big budget counterparts but what it lacks in technical finesse, it makes up for with character.
What sets this tale apart from most of its peers is that this is actually based on a true concept - during WWII, 54 animals were officially recognised for their efforts during the war - the award for them being a Dickin Medal. Of the 54 awarded, 32 went to carrier pigeons! This movie is therefore set in World War II and chronicles the life of Valiant (Ewan Macgregor), a brave little carrier pigeon who joins an elite band used to carry messages to the troops on the frontline. This part of the story is actually based on reality as pigeons really were used for this during the War. Truth really is stranger than fiction! The missions these pigeons were sent on were extremely dangerous and after losing nearly all of the original band, Valiant and a group of new recruits are drafted in and given some basic carrier pigeon training under the watchful eye of Serge (Jim Broadbent). Before the gang have had a chance to finish their training, they are pushed into action at the request of Wing Commander Gutsy (Hugh Laurie). This band of new recruits is a mixed bunch and provides a nice mix of characters, from the bumbling toff (Pip Torrens) to the streetwise wide-boy (Ricky Gervais). They are sent to rescue Mercury (John Cleese) who has been captured by the evil Falcon Von Talon (Tim Curry) and is being held captive in a German bunker and return the important military instructions to their intended destination.
The story is obviously fairly simplistic but the movie is brought to life and made enjoyable by the character acting. There is a nice spread of British talent throughout this movie and I can understand why this movie has been a success both here and abroad. For foreign viewers it perpetuates the stereotypical view of the tea-drinking, quaint Brits and for British viewers, it has plenty of in-jokes and references that mean it operates well on multiple levels. The voice acting here works well and is slickly meshed with the animation to bring the characters to life. There is a romantic interest provided by Nurse Victoria (Olivia Williams) and some good interplay between Macgregor and Gervais (who provides most of the entertainment here for older viewers as you can imagine him in full David Brent mode). The bad guys are played well, complete "mit over ze top" German accents. Valiant is an enjoyable piece of family entertainment that deserves to live longer on DVD than it did at the cinema.