Though advertisements tout it as being “from the producers of Shrek and Shrek 2,” the best thing going for Disney’s Valiant, an animated comedy about WWII messenger pigeons, is that it exhibits scant evidence of the lowbrow crassness or pop-culture infatuation that characterized the big green ogre’s blockbusters. That said, this fowl entertainment also lacks any imaginative, boisterous spark, instead simply going through the underdog-makes-good motions while reducing the second Great War into a campaign in which plucky birds spearheaded the Allied cause by delivering messages and combating evil Nazi falcons. A “Little Pigeon That Could” fable in which human involvement in the global military campaign is erased so as to not interfere with its anthropomorphic shenanigans, the story involves tiny aviator Valiant (voiced by Ewan McGregor) as he enlists in the army’s Royal Homing Pigeon Service, is charged with retrieving an important missive from the mouse resistance in occupied France, and helps rescue a captured POW (John Cleese) with the help of his filthy, fly-infested friend Bugsy (Ricky Gervais).
Having been edited down from its original 109-minute runtime (during its release in Great Britain) to a swift 76 minutes, the streamlined film feels patchy and uneven, its rhythm and tempo shot to pieces by the apparent abridgement of both subplots—Valiant’s romance with a military nurse, for one—and any colorful asides or peripheral characters. Part and parcel of this condensation is a decided lack of storytelling logic, apparent both in Bugsy’s attempt to desert his fellow comrades (he returns to join the fight in the next scene without any explanation as to what brought about his change of heart) and in a military bigwig’s pronouncement that only a tiny creature can fit into a giant canon barrel, a detail disproved a moment later when said barrel is depicted to be many times wider than the heftiest bird on-screen.
But the slapdash construction and narrative inconsistencies aren’t nearly as damaging to this aerial adventure as the mediocrity of its animation—despite their plumage, most characters have a rubber-ducky outward sheen—and the formulaic staleness of its tale. Valiant‘s postscript text reports that pigeons were the most decorated Allied animals during WWII. Nonetheless, such historical grounding, whether accurate or not, hardly excuses the endless series of lame puns (“Our goose is going to be cooked!”; “We have ways of making you squawk!”) paraded out by this undernourished turkey.