A word of advice to filmmakers everywhere: Bragging that your movie was made with half the budget and in half the time of most films of its type is only a good idea if the film doesn't actually look it. Sadly, that isn't the case with Valiant, a British-made, Disney-distributed CGI kids' movie billed as coming "from the producer of Shrek and Shrek 2." Compared to those films, though, it was made fast and cheap, which shows in every none-too-slick frame. More like the outline of a film than a finished work, it zips though a bunch of children's-story conventions with such graceless speed that most of its scenes feel either preordained or incomplete, as though a placard reading "INSERT ACTUAL JOKES AND CHARACTER INTERACTION HERE" might pop up at any moment.


The one place Valiant doesn't cut corners is the casting. Ewan McGregor voices the title character, an unsettlingly gung-ho little British pigeon eager to do his part in World War II by joining the Royal Homing Pigeon Force and carrying secret messages between the French Resistance and the Allies. So he heads to London, where he meets Bugsy (The Office's Ricky Gervais) a greedy, slobbish con artist who enlists in the RHPF to escape two recently burned and angry marks. A parade of British talent swings through the film, including John Hurt as a bird bartender, Hugh Laurie as a heroic pigeon commander, Jim Broadbent as a crusty RHPF sergeant, John Cleese as a flyer captured by evil Nazi falcons, and Tim Curry as cloak-obsessed head falcon Von Talon. But the film is so short, so shallow, and so briskly uninterested in any sort of character development that few of its big-name stars get more than a few lines.

Still, they all get better material than Valiant's personality-lite RHPF buddies or his love interest, who in a couple of bare-bones scenes inexplicably moves from "Hi" to "I love you." Like so much of the film, their brief moments together feel like they were meant to be fleshed out at some point, but there was no time. There also apparently wasn't time to improve the ugly, awkward, simplistic animation, to script gags more sophisticated than "Bugsy farts and then the pigeons crash into each other again," or to come up with a main plot thrust less hoary than "the hero gets mocked for being small, but ultimately turns his size to his advantage." "Back to the drawing board" has rarely seemed like such an appropriate expression for an animated film. Valiant plays like one egg that needed several more months of gestation, but got booted from the nest long before it was ready to fly.