Valiant is the first CGI film to come from the UK and features plenty of big British names from actorly types such as Ewan McGregor to comedians new (Ricky Gervais) and 'classic' (John Cleese). Unfortunately, despite some fine animation and well wrought, if typically British humour, it failed to make much of an impact, although it has yet to be released Stateside. It seems the expectation for CGI is either Pixar eye popping or Dreamworks hip and pop cultured. Valiant is more Chicken Run than Shrek, but where Nick Park's claymation can get away with being a little old fashioned, Valiant isn't quite the kind of sleek studio product that everyone now expects of CGI films. Still, it did give George Fenton a chance to have some fun, quite welcome after The Blue Planet and quite a few low key productions where orchestral pomp and circumstance was resolutely not required.
The film's musical cornerstone are the WW2 marches that Fenton peppers throughout the score. Anyone who's seen any British army event will immediately know the style, but all are Fenton's own invention. Although the most prominent is the March of the R.H.P.S. (Royal Homing Pigeon Service, naturally) there are several others that are equally good, notably the closing minutes of 'Wish Me Luck'. Further, Fenton shamelessly plunders ticks from some of the finest composers to score war movies - no, not John Williams doing Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List, this is war as adventure so it's in with Ron Goodwin's trademark 633 Squadron brass decorations and patriotism until Mr Hitler is defeated. Although meant slightly tongue in cheeky, much of Fenton's music is so convincing that it could be from a serious, live action war movie.
Several other fine ideas make an ideal counterpoint to the marches; Arrival at Camp pays homage to almost everything Glen Miller and his Orchestra ever played and expertly performed by Chris Dean and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. Von Talon and the Bastion provides some skulking music for the villainous German bird (not Eva Braun) while Victora is a little light romance which unfortunately isn't developed further. The dramatic centrepiece is The Eve of the Mission which is surprisingly serious for an animated adventure and adds some welcome sobriety to the more plucky material elsewhere. Naturally, the most rousing entry is The Rescue and Escape, almost thirteen minutes of Fenton proving he can do action as fine as anyone else; the tension and momentum is impressively sustained, using snippets of his march melodies here and there and thankfully avoiding the choppiness often afflicts animation action scoring.
A reprise of the sombre adagio is followed by a blazing fanfare and then a reprise of the R.H.P.S. March, this time performed by the Central Band of the Royal Air Force and a rousing conclusion. At least, it would be, except for Mis-teeq (which does not, I am reliably informed, have anything to do with hard wood) performing Shoo Shoo Baby; at least it's in keeping with the period, but Fenton's score stands perfectly well on its own. Unsurprisingly, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra give a terrific performance aided by an excellent recording and the production, on Fenton's own Debonair label, is top notch. Here's hoping that he gets more assignments where he can show his chops as one of the finest orchestral composers working in movies today. Good work old chap. Jolly hockey sticks and all that, what. What? Eh. Ah, just go and buy the album, it's great, you'll love it.