Valiant opens with a newsreel from ”the Department of Pigeon Propaganda”: The Allies need brave pigeons — like eager, featherweight Valiant (Ewan McGregor) — to carry secret messages to the front. Who recruits and trains these pigeons? Other pigeons, who wear clothes and take little notice of humans. Precious few of those warlike primates are glimpsed at all, in fact. It’s a pigeon’s army and a pigeon’s world. But it’s not, of course, a pigeon’s war. This disconnect between birdkind and mankind isn’t a huge narrative problem…since there’s very little narrative to worry about, anyway. Wee Valiant joins up, gets an impossible mission, faces some Teutonic falcons, pulls a no-bird-left-behind with war buddy Bugsy (Ricky Gervais), and so forth.
But such conceptual laziness (why, exactly, does a Nazi bird have a human-size portrait of himself?) does make you appreciate the clever artistry of a Chicken Run or Finding Nemo, where great care has been taken to cultivate a talking animal’s essential ”humanity” while leaving him firmly embedded in his natural milieu. Such delicate considerations clearly did not burden the pixel pushers behind Valiant. The production house, Vanguard Animation, was birthed by Disney as an alternative to pricey, lapidary Pixar — which might be why this movie’s aesthetics seem governed by its bottom line: The CG is on the rubbery side, and the backdrops are jarringly 2-D. But Valiant isn’t so hard to look at — it’s hard to listen to. The script is gabby and flabby in the first act, and the dialogue is balsa-wood inanity outside of Gervais’ better bits. (”Maybe I’m not conscientious,” says the rogue, attempting desertion, ”but I do object.”) On the other hand, the difficult issues of avian flatulence and bulimia are finally addressed. Vividly.