Unless I'm greatly mistaken, American kindergartners do not spend a great deal of school time studying the nuances of World War II. British tots, apparently, do — or so one assumes after viewing "Valiant," a charming animated comedy from across the pond that will probably disappear quickly from these shores. Though it's made with wit, style and sweetness, it may be a tricky match for American audiences. The humor is very British, and the historical story seems to require a little more knowledge than its very young target audience may possess.
Then again, kids can be very good at filtering out what doesn't make sense, and at 76 minutes, "Valiant" just might be an entertaining distraction. (My 6-year-old companion enjoyed herself, and even learned a new word — "sabotage.") It's certainly catnip for parents, who will enjoy picking out the British all-star voice cast. Ewan McGregor, sounding uncommonly plucky, provides the voice of the movie's hero: Valiant Pigeon, a small but determined bird who wants to do something big for his country.
In the manner of all children's-movie heroes, Valiant says goodbye to his mother (who urges him to "eat breakfast before you go" and then cheerfully regurgitates a worm for him) and marches off to do Something Important. Because it's 1944, something important is to join the elite Royal Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS) and deliver vital messages between France and England during the war.
He's joined by a motley array of avian aviators, including scruffy con bird Bugsy (voiced by Ricky Gervais of "The Office") and tough drill sergeant Sarge (Jim Broadbent), who hollers, "I will make birds of you turkeys!" After basic training, Valiant and his cohorts head to France, where they meet up with the French Resistance (or, rather, its mouse division), face the very scary falcon General Von Talon (Tim Curry), and eventually win the day, after a breathless and really quite exciting race across the English Channel, not to mention several choruses of "Rule Britannia."
The animation, though at times artful (Sarge, in particular, is a lovely pigeonish shade of iridescent aqua), isn't up to Pixar standards; then again, it undoubtedly wasn't made on a Pixar budget, either. But no matter; "Valiant" is never a hardship to watch (though falcon lovers may be unhappy to see their feathered friends as Nazis), and it's often delightful, for any age. "Can you burp on cue?" a bird asks Bugsy. "Yeah, I can burp on all the letters," he replies. "Not just Q." Some humor, it turns out, translates just fine.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org