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Valiant
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
Directed by Gary Chapman. Written by: George Webster (story), Jordan Katz and George Webster and George Melrod (screenplay). Starring: (the voices of) Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Tim Curry, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese. 105 min. UK.

By Sam Gerrans

Review top sheet: a tedious and predictable children’s story in computer-generated form.

Think: “Scrappy Doo” meets a pantomime version of “The Dambusters”.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: you thought the “Tellytubbies” was quality TV or accept anything Bush or Blair have to say at face value
No, if: you can do joined-up writing
Maybe, if: you had a choice between watching this film or being kidnapped and mercilessly beaten and then waking up in a cell in Guant?namo Bay

Comments: this is a computer-generated animation film with famous people doing the voices. I sat there thinking, Isn’t that’s… er… whatsisname?

I was fairly sure about John Cleese and Hugh Laurie. I don’t know what the rest of them got paid, but it was wasted on me.

This is a coming-of-age story the end of which could be predicted by a myopic sloth with amnesia. And saying but it’s for kids won’t work. They’ll have the whole thing worked out in the first ten seconds, too.

The good news is this is a short film.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story:
• Dialogue: *
• Substance:
• Film craft: **

Story comments: another faceless, written-by-committee story-by-numbers guaranteed to dim your senses and leave you faintly resentful at your wasted time.

“Valiant” is a twee, coming-of-age-story sauce on a bed of re-hashed, re-constituted, dumbed-down pro-WWII agitprop served up with lashing of rousing moments to the sound of good old Blighty music. But none of this rousing was justified by the story and I wasn’t roused in the slightest. I was concentrating on not going to sleep.

The most interesting thing about “Valiant” is we learn that animals – including pigeons – were awarded medals in WWII for bravery. The awards ceremony must have been a priceless spectacle.

Dialogue comments: the humour is strained and clunky. How many bird jokes can one film take?

Even the great John Cleese can’t bring life to a story which is missing from the script. They should have let him write the thing himself.

Substance comments: this film has no substance. It’s just empty, candy-coated froth, so I’ll move on to some general remarks about writing for children before returning to deliver the coup de grace to “Valiant” on this score.

I agree with Spike Milligan. For him, children were not simply smaller versions of grown-ups. They were a completely different species.

Children see the world through a glass darkly, as it were, yet they are privy to insights denied most adults. They are complex and wonder-driven and cruel and possessed of the most exhaustive logic (albeit obedient to a grammar different to our own). They need a mythology which meets them where they actually are and not one which comes pre-packaged in neat little blocks lifted from a PowerPoint marketing plan.

Evidently, some producers and publishers think that dumbing down is the way to reach the children’s market. In the short term, they may make the bucks back, but they’re never going come up with anything of real value. Ultimately – and perhaps more importantly for them – they’re going to make less money in the long run, too.

The producers of pap are misunderstanding the reality, I would say, on at least two counts. Firstly, it is parents who do the buying. We hold the wallet, we have the power. If you want to sell a story to my child, Mr. Producer, you have to go through me. When was the last time you saw a seven-year-old buy his own ticket? And on the basis of “Valiant”, I’m not buying. I would not choose to pollute my child with rubbish like that for the same reason I don’t take him to McDonalds or thrust fizzy drinks under his nose. However, I do realise I’m in a minority on that one.

What will strike a broader chord is the fact that you have to make me, the parent, enjoy it. A. A. Milne understood that the secret of a successful children’s story is to make it accessible and enjoyable on both the child’s and the adult’s levels. This is why Winnie-the-Pooh still sell millions today. It’s no sacrifice to read it to your children. It’s a pleasure. And let’s face it, when it comes to choosing books at bedtime, who has the final say?

“Valiant” reaches no-one. It talks to a template-driven idea of what a “kid” might be like. A McKid , if you like. But there are no such children except, perhaps, in the minds of certain producers.

This film will be forgotten before you even make it to the aisle.

Film craft: in Russian there is an expression: ne myso, ne ryba – which roughly translates as neither one thing nor the other. And so with this film. It isn’t straight animation and it isn’t a real feature film. It’s computer-generated analogy which is not as good or as convincing as either film or animation.

Having said that, it’s well executed for what it is.

A taste of the story: a small pigeon wants – and gets – the chance to risk having his head blown off for king and country.


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

20.08.05
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