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Movie Review

It’s the height of World War II, and Britain’s Royal Homing Pigeon Service is contributing to the war effort, flying over enemy territory to deliver messages to and from the French Resistance. But the enemy is not sitting still, either: He has sicced a squadron of falcons, led by the dastardly Gen. Von Talon, on the brave British pigeons.

When crack courier Mercury is captured, it’s up to the misfits of Squad F—including the small-but-determined Valiant and pigeon-with-a-dodgy-past Bugsy—to fly into occupied France to rescue him. They must also pick up a top-secret message from the Resistance and deliver it before it falls into enemy hands—er, wings. Seeing as how Squads A through E have already been decimated by the falcons and Von Talon knows the Resistance is up to something, Squad F’s mission becomes all the more dangerous.

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Positive Elements

Valiant is brave and determined. “It’s not the size of your wingspan! It’s the size of your spirit,” he says to the skeptical training sergeant. Valiant can’t comprehend the idea of quitting in the face of danger, especially when a comrade’s life is on the line. “It’s my duty,” he says.

Bugsy at first skips out on his friends as they head off to war, but he finally comes around and not only joins them but volunteers for the most dangerous portion of the mission. In the heat of a fight, Bugsy throws himself between Valiant and Von Talon, allowing himself to be captured. He then passes up possible rescue because it would endanger the rest of the mission. The remainder of Squad F and the brave commander Gutsy risk their lives to hold off a falcon assault so that Valiant can deliver the secret to headquarters.

Spiritual Content

The pigeons hide out in the ruins of a bombed-out cathedral. In the church we see the tomb of a medieval knight depicted with his hands folded in prayer.

Sexual Content

Bugsy is always coming on to females. Most of his advances are fairly innocent—until he meets a mouse who is a member of the French Resistance, to whom he says, “Va-va-voom!” accompanied by pelvic thrusting. (There’s nothing particularly sexual in the drawing of the mouse, by the way.) Bugsy misunderstands the mouse’s French accent when she says she has a message to deliver; he says, “Yes, I’d like a full-body massage.” Valiant and a nurse kiss passionately.

Violent Content

The story features a lot of slapstick violence, including slaps, pratfalls and bops to the head. The sequences where falcons attack pigeons are more intense, though, and they might be too much for very young viewers. Von Talon swoops out of the sky onto a flight of pigeons, and although we don’t see the actual strike, we see the pigeons’ equipment and feathers flutter into the sea. As the pigeons try to rescue the mice Resistance fighters one gets into a tug of war with a falcon in which the female mouse is the “rope.” (The falcon eventually smashes into a light post and the pigeon and mouse escape.) Bugsy bites a falcon on the neck.

The final showdown between Valiant and Von Talon is particularly intense for a G-rated movie; the two fly through large machinery that narrowly misses slicing and dicing them, and the falcon’s sharp beak and talons flash as they just miss the hero. Other birds come to Valiant’s rescue, pelting Von Talon with shoes, sticks and other objects.

Von Talon repeatedly hits captured pigeons and throws them against the bars of their cage. A mouse uses matches like flare guns, lighting them off and throwing them at falcons. The pigeons are transported to France in the hold of a bomber, which is blasted by flak and machine gun fire. (We see the fuselage being ripped open.) Just after the pigeons parachute out—never mind for the moment why birds need parachutes—the plane explodes and crashes.

Crude or Profane Language

Parents of youngsters may want to know that "poop deck" is used to reference backsides. Also, the terms "idiot," "stinky," "reject," "geezer" and "feather brain," among others, are tossed around.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Pigeons drink “bug juice” at a bar, and one asks for his to be “shaken, not stirred.” The pigeons receive shots through a huge syringe. Von Talon injects Mercury with truth serum, which makes him loopy. The seagull bartender sings the song “What Should We Do With a Drunken Sailor?”

Other Negative Elements

Okay, we know that mama pigeons feed their babies by regurgitating food into their tiny beaks, but do we have to see Valiant’s mom bring up a worm? (And why is the worm smiling?) Likewise, I understand why Valiant has to swallow the secret message to keep it safe, but does it have to be covered with ... um, gunk when he brings it back up? Bugsy, meanwhile, is a veritable gas factory, and he frequently—and loudly—belches and passes gas.

Bugsy is a con man (con pigeon?) at the beginning of the story, and we see him cheating. A sergeant misunderstands that Valiant is a friend of the heroic Gutsy, and Valiant knowingly allows the misunderstanding to stand—in effect, lying about the relationship.

Conclusion

I watched Valiant in a theater three-quarters full of children, and I heard nary a laugh throughout, even during sequences where the filmmakers threw in a lot of Three Stooges-esque pratfalls to make up for the lack of decent dialogue or character development. The only halfway funny sequence is when Von Talon’s truth serum fails to cause Mercury to reveal military secrets but does cause him to go on and on about various phobias and playground slights from his childhood. It's a joke completely lost on the younger crowd.

Thus, Valiant, produced by England’s Vanguard Animation, is a puzzling movie. It depends on a grasp of history likely to be missing in its target audience. That wouldn’t be a fatal error if this was otherwise a compelling story with compelling characters, but unfortunately it falls flat on both accounts. (It does, however, "succeed" in including quite a bit of violence and flatulence, along with a few sexual winks.) C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” This not-so-finely feathered fare doesn't even reach that standard.

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