BETWEEN 1943 and 1949, no fewer than 54 animals were awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal for bravery including 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, three horses and one cat.

The computer-animated feature Valiant pays tribute to the feathered heroes of the Second World War with the heart-warming story of one bird's courageous effort to outwit the enemy.

May, 1944. Members of the elite Royal Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS) carry vital messages across enemy lines, containing information about the Nazis' attack plans.

Unfortunately, many of the pigeons die in the line of fire, many captured by the villainous General Von Talon (voiced by Tim Curry) and his feathered flying squadrons of falcons.

When one of the RHPS birds, Mercury (John Cleese), is captured in possession of the most crucial message to the war effort, heroic pigeon Gutsy (Hugh Laurie) realises that the Allied effort is at a critical juncture.

"If we don't find some more birds soon, our goose is going to be cooked!" he laments.

And so Gutsy and his RHPS begin a nationwide campaign to enlist more members to the service.

Little wood pigeon Valiant (Ewan McGregor), who lives in the quaint village of West Nestington, dreams of joining the RHPS.

So Valiant flies off to London to sign up. En route, he befriends a con bird street pigeon from Trafalgar Square called Bugsy (Ricky Gervais), who also enlists to avoid a plucking from two unhappy customers.

The new recruits are hastily trained then sent into action to rescue Mercury from Von Talon's clutches.

It's a perilous mission, but the pigeons are aided by members of the French Resistance, including the sexy mouse Charles De Girl.

Valiant is a charming and colourful adventure that should play well to a family audience with remarkably little on-screen violence and lots of slapstick moments (largely involving birds flying into inanimate objects or each other).

McGregor delivers a lively vocal performance as the diminutive hero and Gervais predictably snaffles most of the best one-liners: "I may not be that conscientious, but I still object!"

Curry could perhaps camp it up a little more but he trills all of the lines you expect, including "Ve have vays of making you skvawk!"

Animation is slick though never truly spectacular including a couple of decent set pieces and the screenplay avoids most of the obvious pigeon cliches but lacks a big emotional pay-off.

As an Easter treat, Valiant is well-preened: with a bit more characterisation, it could truly soar.

Updated: 09:04 Friday, March 25, 2005