Vanguard Animation is a studio that just amazes me. It might seem strange to say though it's true. The studio does amaze me, but not for the reasons that they should. Since they were founded by "Shrek" producer John H. Williams in 2002, they have put out some incredibly poor animated movies that leave an incredibly sour taste in people's mouths. Their films are not only bad, but they're also extremely bad. I'd go as far as saying that some of these films are some of the worst animated movies ever made and their 2005 debut "Valiant" is no exception. This film was their grand debut onto the animation scene as a way to make themselves a competition for studios like Pixar and DreamWorks and it failed miserably and set the low bar of what to eventually expect from the studio. This really was an exceptionally painful animated movie for me to watch.
In May of 1944 near the end of World War II, a young British pigeon named Valiant (Ewan McGregor) dreams of enlisting in the Royal Homing Pigeon Service, a carrier pigeon service that helps relay secret messages to Ally troops. One day, he sets off for London to enlist and runs into a slob pigeon named Bugsy (Ricky Gervais). After helping him escape some crows in Trafalgar Square, the pigeons along with two brothers named Toughwood and Tailfeather (Dan Roberts and Brian Lonsdale) and Lofty (Pip Torrens) are sent off to boot camp where the train to fight in the war. Eventually, they're sent off to France where they must get a secret message back to England before the evil German falcon General Von Talon (Tim Curry) can get his hands on it.
I also found out before watching this film that this was supposed to be the first film from Vanguard under a deal with Disney, but considering how badly this film did critically and commercially, Disney changed their minds and ended the deal fast. I can't say I blame them. This really was a hard movie to watch despite its short length. The film runs at only seventy-six minutes and yet it felt like it went on forever. It's pretty easy to pinpoint what exactly is the biggest problem with this film and that's the simply dreadful story. I'll give the filmmakers credit for wanting to try something unique by setting the film during the Second World War, but it doesn't pay off and ends up feeling basic. The film goes through a basic checklist and hits every mark of the underdog protagonist wanting to become a big name hero and through trials and tribulations he comes out on top. The script doesn't allow any unique twists and turns throughout the film especially with the suspenseful moments after the pigeons get shipped off to France feeling boring and tedious. Then there are the jokes which to put quite simply are absolutely atrocious. These jokes are painfully unfunny and some don't even fit the period the film is set in. There's one scene where the characters quote James Bond's famous martini line and another where the famous sad French song "Non, je ne regrette rien" is playing even though both wouldn't exist for more than a decade from when this film takes place. Jokes like this really made the writing come off desperate and it just didn't work for me. The film also ends up building to one of the worst climaxes I've ever seen in an animated movie as well. It's simply embarrassing. As far as the animation goes, it's also pretty unimpressive. The film does have some very nicely rendered sets and locations throughout and I think they look alright for the time even if they can feel like an old PC game from that era, but the character animation is simply horrendous. The characters have very ugly designs and move around in an awkward fashion which really results in some awkwardly created shots and set-ups. The action scenes are also very badly handled as the shots are mostly standard and use mostly medium width and don't really do anything epic or special. Also, I was amazed at how absent humans were in this film. London looked completely deserted in the middle of broad daylight and there are only two shots of human characters but mostly from the chest down as we don't see their heads. It makes me think back to this point I made. If you're struggling to make competent-looking computer-animated humans, then you shouldn't set your film in a setting that needs humans despite what characters your animating. Speaking of the characters, despite having talented voice actors are all completely wasted on this film. Valiant is such an uninspired protagonist. Compared to another animated protagonist McGregor played in 2005, Rodney Copperbottom from "Robots", Valiant is weak. Where Rodney uses his goal to help his parents out and try to fix what's wrong in Robot City, Valiant only joins the army because it looked cool since he saw a propaganda film in a bar. What a terrible excuse for a protagonist. The other characters aren't much better. Bugsy is annoying and while he does have an interesting character arc idea of being unwilling to fight in the military, it's quickly abandoned and he just becomes another annoying comic relief character in animated movies. The other pigeons' in the service are undeveloped and useless and the higher pigeons that are in the service are military stereotypes we've seen in other war films, and other characters Valiant comes across are mostly forgettable. The only one I can remember was this female French Resistance mouse but only because her name was Charles de Girl which only adds to the point of how terrible the jokes are. The worst character by far though is the villain General Von Talon. Not only is Tim Curry completely wasted playing him, but he's also one of the most painfully generic villains I've ever seen in an animated movie. The character lives in this abandoned artillery battery on the French shore as an evil hideout, it's always thunderous outside, he has a throne chair, and he wears a ridiculous black and red cape. All he needs is a white cat to stroke and to do an evil laugh and he'd be the perfect cliche villain ever made. It's honestly just sad.
Honestly, "Valiant" is simply dreadful. The story is dreadfully unfunny and has nothing inspiring about it, the animation is ugly despite its decent backgrounds, and the characters are all dreadful dull and don't stand out in any way. I honestly cannot recommend this film in the slightest. If there's anything this film proved to me, it's that Vanguard Animation definitely showed the low bar that was to come for future animated movies. My advice is instead of watching this film, I'd watch any other good film that focused on World War II. This film is about the equivalent of a pigeon from the park. It's simply a bird to not really interact with.