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'Valiant' delivers feather-light value

Directed by: Gary Chapman
Written by: George Webster, Jordan Katz, George Melrod
Starring: the voices of Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Tim Curry, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, Olivia Williams
At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs
Running time: 76 minutes
Rated: G
★ 1/2

The voice cast of ''Valiant," a new computer-animated film that has just popped over from England, includes Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais of ''The Office," Tim Curry, Monty Python's John Cleese, ''House" star Hugh Laurie, character actor Jim Broadbent, and the lovely and talented Olivia Williams (''Rushmore"). The thought of this motley crew in the recording studio, laying down vocal tracks and cracking each other up, is far more entertaining than anything in the film. ''Chicken Run" it ain't.

But it's a kiddie movie, and I suppose you could do worse for a late-summer, air-conditioned 76 minutes at the multiplex. Not a lot worse, though. Set in the thick of World War II, ''Valiant" concerns itself with the plucky members of the Royal Homing Pigeon Service, whose mission is to carry important messages to and from the high command while dodging the claws of evil Nazi falcons led by the suitably Darth Vaderish Von Talon (Curry). Yes, it's that weird.

Our hero is Valiant (McGregor), a pint-sized but enthusiastic new recruit who signs up for basic training under the ramrod tutelage of Broadbent's Sargeant. His platoon-mates include an upper-class twit (Pip Torrens), two big and agreeably dumb brothers (Brian Lonsdale and Dan Roberts), and Bugsy (Gervais), a con-artist city pigeon who has enlisted only to hide out from a couple of angry magpies looking to shake him down. There's also a pretty nurse (Williams), but when Valiant and she start puffing out their breast feathers at each other, you may get the willies.

The training sequences are a dumbed-down mishmash of every army movie ever made -- offered with the confidence that your children haven't seen any of them -- but ''Valiant" does stagger into flight once the platoon embarks on a mission to occupied France, where they encounter a couple of French Resistance mice (cue the Edith Piaf) and more of those falcons. The latter factor heavily in the climactic sequence, which features Valiant rescuing a loopy imprisoned pigeon played by Cleese, showing his mettle to RHPS commander Gutsy (Laurie), and saving the day by hiding a top-secret message in his little pigeon crop. He presents it to Gutsy covered with slime, which grossed me right out but delighted the 8-year-old I happened to bring along to the screening.

Still, much of ''Valiant" seemed pitched below even her level, to the 5-and-younger crowd who don't really need to know why cowardly Bugsy has an unexplained change of heart in time to help assist in the heroics. The digital artwork by the new British company Vanguard Animation is bright and uncomplicated and nowhere near as sophisticated as anything Pixar or DreamWorks have done -- you can feel the vectors holding the scenery up -- and a larger unsolved problem is that pigeons are, well, ugly.

From this parent's point of view, the best part about ''Valiant" was the chat about the French Resistance and Normandy on the drive home -- how often does your kid ask for historical clarification? Otherwise it may be a cute enough movie but not at current market rates: two parents, a handful of children, and multiplex grub will probably bring your total to more than $50, which translates to ''Valiant" costing about 67 cents per minute of your time. The top-secret message this pigeon is carrying reads ''Wait for the DVD."

Ty Burr can be reached at

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