Valiant

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Exactly when did pigeons, war zones and plane crashes become fodder for kiddie fun? This animated feature details how homing pigeons apparently saved our tails in World War II. Ewan McGregor is the voice of Valiant, a wee little Scottish wood pigeon who’s determined to serve his country by carrying messages to and from the front lines.

The story spoofs classic war movie plots, with the young, unlikely recruit and a group of enlisted misfits botching their way through training but somehow coming out as heroes.

Maybe pigeons, aka rats with wings, aren’t the least entertaining animals one could think of — that honor goes to carp. Any creature, however, whose main activities include pecking at the ground under park benches and pooping on statues, however, just doesn’t seem like a great basis for an animated epic. Even worse, though, is the historic context of the movie. The battlefields of a bloody war that resulted in the loss of millions of lives aren’t exactly the appropriate setting for a kiddie flick — especially one billed as a light, funny, computer-animated movie “from the producer of Shrek and Shrek 2.”

If there’s anything redeeming about this movie (and there hardly is) it’s the cast. John Cleese is Mercury, a veteran of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service, and the hilarious Ricky Gervais provides the voice of Bugsy, a sneaky, buffoonish member of the pigeon squadron. Fans of the original BBC version of The Office will recognize shades of Gervais’ David Brent, somehow lovable despite being utterly despicable.

But big-name comic actors or not, this script just isn’t funny. Absent are the little zingers, bits of witticisms and sight gags that one would expect from anyone involved in Shrek or Shrek 2. Plus, the jokes often require a working knowledge of World War II history, or at least a feel for 1940s culture. Perhaps they’re teaching world history in kindergarten these days, but one would guess that a reference to storming the beach at Normandy would be lost on most 5-year-olds. Granted, Snoopy had his World War I flying ace alter ego, and the historical context of the Red Baron was pretty much lost on most kids; it was just cute to see Snoopy flying his doghouse. Charles Schulz, though, didn’t make anything nearly as dark, realistic-looking and intense as Valiant.

Do you want to take your kids to see birds talking about how their enemies will spread their entrails “like jam on toast” and pluck every feather from their bodies? The suggestions of violence and war scenes are just too strong for a G-rating, even if it’s all peppered with silly little birdies. The enemy is a group of evil German falcons, a group of ruthless killers who attack the homing pigeons and eat them. In fact, the movie opens with falcons swooping down and killing off a sweet little bunch of homing pigeons. Lovely stuff.

Kids should hear about honoring brave deeds; they need examples of goodness and courage; and they need to see that little guys can do big things. But smearing innards like jam on toast? That’s something they can do without.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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