Like its title character, this little animated film has heart and charm. What it will have trouble finding is an audience to appreciate it. This is a computer-animated film with a G rating that assumes its viewers will understand references to Edith Piaf and the Invasion of Normandy. If there are any children out there who were born in th 1940’s, this could be just the movie for them.
It is set in World War II London, where carrier pigeons played a crucial role by bringing essential information to the fighting forces. A small pigeon named Valiant (voice of Ewan McGregor) dreams of being one of them. He is not exactly up to the literally high standards of the Royal Air Force Homing Pigeon Service, but their forces have been terribly depleted by capture and casualties and they have to take what they can get.
Squadrons A, B, C, D, and E are no longer available. So, Valiant is reluctantly accepted for training in Squadron F, along with Bugsy (voice of “The Office’s” very funny Ricky Gervais), his messy, cowardly, dishonest, but somehow endearing friend. There is an important message to be delivered, some carnivorous German falcons to be evaded, some captured colleagues to be rescued, a problem only someone much smaller than the usual carrier pigeon can solve, and, of course, freedom to be fought for and a pretty nurse pigeon to come home to.
This is the traditional G-rated underdog theme, but it is first and foremost a very traditional WWII movie, down to the saucy French resistance fighter and the salty veteran of the previous war who always has a drink on the house for a brave lad, I mean pigeon.
It doesn’t have the immediate accessibility of most animated films or most G-rated films of any kind. Its greatest charm lies in its understated humor and its affectionate salutes to the familiar characters of the era. But this is likely to be confusing or completely above the heads of children, even most teenagers. Unlike its title character, this is a film that is not quite sure how to deliver its message.
Parents should know that there is some mild wartime violence, including a plane crash, some injuries, and some off-camera fatalities. There are some mildly grisly images, including bombed-out buildings, the bones of birds that have been eaten, a gargoyle, and the squishing of a fly. Characters are in peril in secenes that may be too intense for younger children. There is some mild crude humor.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Valiant wanted to be a part of the messenger corps. Why did Valiant want to be a part of the fight? Why did Bugsy not want to, and why did he come back? They may want to find out more about the use of animals in wartime. The real life Dickin medal awardees are discussed on these BBC programmes. And families may also want to find out about the real-life Normandy invasion.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Chicken Run.