You can be certain that supercalifragilistic feelings are in limited supply at Disney these days. In the past year, Disney has endured the legal wrath of its shareholders (over Michael Ovitz’s golden parachute), Michael Eisner’s semi-forced removal as CEO (due at the end of September) and a string of box-office rhinestones ("The Ice Princess," "Herbie: Fully Loaded") that have deeply tarnished its reputation as Hollywood’s leading purveyor of family fare.
And with the loss of Pixar as a distribution partner, one could argue that Disney ranks third — after Dreamworks ("Madagascar") and 20th Century Fox ("Robots") — among animation-savvy movie studios. Unthinkable.
"Valiant," a punchless computer-generated tale of World War II carrier pigeons, is ill-equipped to restore the studio’s lost luster. Blandly visualized and underfelt, it lacks the scope and spark of Disney’s best work ("The Lion King," "The Little Mermaid"), suggesting once again that the company has exhausted its coffers of imagination.
At a mere 76 minutes, "Valiant" — directed by firsttimer Gary Chapman — at least has the virtue of brevity. Ewan McGregor, who voiced the ambitious young gearhead in "Robots," applies his boyish tones to a similar character here: Valiant Pigeon, a runty, untested bird who nests with his mother in the attic of a British farmhouse.
Dazzled by the aviatorsunglasses-wearing recruiters that swoop into town, Valiant enlists in Britain’s carrier pigeon corps to aid in the war effort against the Germans.
The next thing you know, Valiant — armed only with a lame proverb ("It’s not the size of your wingspan, it’s the size of your spirit!") — is crossing the English Channel, hooking up with the French Resistance (represented by a crossdressing rodent named "Charles De Girl") and escaping the clutches of Von Talon, a German falcon.
Voiced by Tim Curry ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show"), Von Talon is scary only for his unfunny puns ("We have ways of making you squawk!").
More important, "Valiant" lacks the enticement of separation — there’s no MIA older brother or dead parent or anything that youngsters will find compelling.
Valiant’s primary relationship is not with his mother — who, in the movie’s depressingly low comic high point, tries to send him off to war with a barfed-up worm — but with Bugsy (Ricky Gervais), a standard sidekick who talks fast, cowers readily and proves about a tenth as funny as Eddie Murray’s donkey in "Shrek" or Ellen DeGeneres’ underwater tag-along in "Finding Nemo."
When you factor in the drab, war-darkened animation — about as cuddly as a land mine — it’s clear that the only message Valiant will be delivering is a bad one for Disney.
‘Valiant’ Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Tim Curry, Jim Broadbent, John Cleese, Hugh Laurie Rating: G Running time: 76 minutes Playing: Opens today in Valley theaters Grade: D+