On paper (at least the paper of a press release), Valiant sounds like a winner. Take the vocal talents of Ewan McGregor (Star Wars), Jim Broadbent (Iris), John Cleese (Monty Python...), Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Ricky Gervais (The Office), Hugh Laurie (House), John Hurt (The Elephant Man), Rik Mayall (The Young Ones), and Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense), and enlist them in the service of a delightful animated adventure about the Royal Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS) during World War II (it's even produced "in association with" Ealing Studios, the brand name of British film comedy).
Delightful, however, seems to be the sticking point. Valiant is sadly boring, and while its rote mechanics may function nominally on children, it's going to be a long 76 minutes for the adults (trimmed a full 33 minutes from the UK cut). Walt Disney Pictures "presents" Valiant, but it's actually the shakedown flight of Vanguard Animation, new home to Shrek producer John Williams.
The Royal Homing Pigeon Service delivered crucial intelligence of the Allied Forces during World War II, but as the story begins, the RHPS is at a crisis point after heavy losses to Axis-bred falcons. When elebrated soldier Wing Commander Gutsy (Laurie) goes on a recruiting tour, it's the last straw for pint-sized patriot Valiant (McGregor) of West Nestington: he's going to enlist and serve his country.
In Trafalgar Square, a mishap finds Valiant entangled with a ruffian named Bugsy (Gervais), who enlists under protest. Their scrappy unit of misfit recruits hope to prove their valour by saving the day. After all, "it's not the size of your wingspan—it's the size of your spirit" (message delivered, soldier...). Of course, if evil General Von Talon (Curry) and his squadron of falcons have anything to say about it, the pigeons won't be making their return flight. "Ve haf vays of making you sqwawk," Von Talon promises Cleese's P.O.W. pigeon.
The actors' wings are clipped by a flaccid script, and they have no opportunity to improvise (or perhaps no interest). The direction is equally uninspired, with a smattering of sight gags providing the scant humor and action scenes that fail to quicken the pulse. Adults can cling to the small compensations—a "Dept. of Pigeon Propaganda" newsreel and music reminiscent of Bridge on the River Kwai. Things do pick up substantially with the arrival of the French Resistance, Mouse Division, but by then, Valiant has lost our interest.