It is May 1944 and a fleet of carrier pigeons are flying over the English Channel with important messages for the British Army top brass, but as they sight the White Cliffs of Dover, something swoops down and stops them from getting home. They were part of a number of homing pigeons recruited for military purposes during the Second World War, and at this time the Army need all of these birds that they can get, which leads us to Valiant (voiced by Ewan McGregor), a plucky young pigeon who dearly wants to join up - but only the very best need apply.
Will Valiant succeed? Will Valiant suck seed? Apparently that's what pigeons eat according to this, as presumably there wasn't much in the way of discarded fast food to snap up in the United Kingdom back during the last world conflict. But the lead character was well-named, as that moniker could have applied to the film itself, a British effort (actually a co-production with the States, but mostly with UK talent) which sought to vie for attention with the higher profile computer animated movies that were being released with increasing frequency by the time this came out. As it was, it was largely neglected, but didn't embarrass itself.
The main problem, if you set aside the fact that other, bigger budgeted efforts stole its thunder and elbowed it from the world's cinema screens fairly quickly, was that it wasn't really funny. As it was a production from the new Ealing Studios banner, you might have expected it to harken back to the classic comedy or war films that had made the studio's name during its heyday of the forties and fifties, but there was little in the spirit of those previous favourites and more a wearying succession of cheerless slapstick gags in lieu of wit, suggesting the creators were lacking confidence in the audience's tolerance for what they were actually promoting.
Which was, as the credits caption informed us, a tribute to those brave pigeons who weathered the storm of combat to supply Britain with top secret and essential messages from the agents on the Continent. It seems a strange manner in which to be respectful, as the mood is more spoofy than anything else, and the character with the most faith of the scriptwriters appeared to be Bugsy, voiced by Ricky Gervais fresh off his sitcom success. It sounds as if he was allowed to ad lib to some extent, hence some longwinded bluster and the odd off-colour quip, such as when he describes our hero as being from "Berkeley Hunt-shire", which one can only hope went over the heads of most viewers.
Safe to say, if you don't find Gervais's ramblings funny, then that's another mark against this film, but there are a few Brit thesps not really offering their best work in this. John Cleese is a captured pigeon who gets too much truth serum and talks his captors into infuriation, Tim Curry is the chief captor Von Talon who sports a truly awful German accent, and John Hurt is a one-legged seagull barman. The plot takes the form of any number of "whip the recruits into shape" war comedies, but ends up being a bit of a nothing as far as anything inspirational goes, looking like yet another example of Britain not being able to let the war go, which is fair enough as we shouldn't forget those sacrifices, but does strike one as odd that such modern for its day methods be applied to a backwards-looking story of this type. And those visuals are far from attractive, leaving you with a film you wish had found a better way of translating its noble designs to the screen. Music by George Fenton.