| April 9, 2005

This film is a bit of a mixed blessing really. The maiden feature from British computer-animation house Vanguard, it is the first full-length animated film to be entirely produced in the UK. Based at Ealing Studios and with the backing of the British Film Council and an all-British cast this is the Brits noble attempt to stamp their mark on digital animation. The story revolves around a pint-sized wood pigeon named Valiant (voiced by Ewan McGregor) and his subsequent enrolment as a messenger in the Royal Homing Pigeon Service. Inspired by a Citizen Kane-style newsreel he heads off to London determined to make his mark and help out the Allied war effort. The story itself is the brainchild of George Melrod and the idea of taking a seemingly antique and under-represented tale of carrier pigeons in the Second World War and turning it into the neoteric form of CGI animation is an exemplary display of British originality but the execution, however, is not.
The style of the film is genial, not wanting to offend and thus is filled with a lot of sight gags and silliness, but they don’t possess the same depth (ahem!) as say Finding Nemo. The characterisation is left lacking and the wood pigeon, I must say, is not the most beautiful creature on God’s green earth (although I do confess to a somewhat irrational hatred for what I like to disaffectionately refer to as rats with wings). Living in London probably does it, where they seem to be everywhere, watching me with their beady bird eyes… waiting… readying themselves for a sustained Hitchcockian attack, dive-bombing out of the air with murder in their eyes, a la Tippi Hedren. But where would Rod Taylor be? Seventy-five and not up for the challenge that’s where. So you can see how this may have slightly marred my ability to fall hopelessly in love with their little feathered faces. The mice on the other hand, I fell for, with their cute little twitching noses and French accents. They are tragically underused, quick as look at them their screen times over, but they are the sort of well-rounded absorbing characters that I would be happy for to live on as a novelty plaything for the under 5’s.
Maybe I’m being unfair on the film but we have been spoiled over the last few years with the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks, even with hand-drawn animation, like the excellent Bellevue Rendez-vous and the sublimely magical Spirited Away. These films emanated care, wit and a meticulous eye for detail that the public, be they young or old, has come to expect. We demand our self-referential in-jokes, the knowing nods to other examples of the genre and the richly textured details we can swoon over.
Lamentably Valiant just doesn’t cut the mustard I’m afraid, it fails to ignite a spark and only really delivers if big-name British actors are your thing, featuring as it does a plethora of great Brits from the comedic (Ricky Gervais and John Cleese) to the more theatrical (Tim Curry and Jim Broadbent) plus a host of others, but what it makes up for in talent it sadly lacks in charm. It inauspiciously lets the side down as British cinema has a proud history of great films and directors who fly the flag and hold their own against the rest of the world. The post-war films of the Ealing Studios are a marked example and it’s these films that Valiant tries to emulate. Problematically this film is quite clearly not of the same stock lacking those films intelligence, the script contrived as it struggles with the talent provided.
It’s a valiant (couldn’t resist) effort but not quite strong enough to stamp its claws in the swollen trunk of the international animation scene which is a disappointment for those of us expecting Vanguard’s first feature to be championed next to Toy Story and it’s ilk. Alas, as any follower of the English national football team will tell you, the Brits have a knack for taking disappointment in their stride, so this shouldn’t be too hard. Having said this it is refreshing to see the British film industry producing films other than those centred on roughly spoken gentlemen with knuckle-dusters who love their mums. So with this all too real threat lurking in the British Film Industry’s collective unconscious let’s hope this won’t be the last from Vanguard and that they learn from their mistakes.

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