Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, rated PG
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is based on the true story of the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment in World War I, and the most decorated war dog in U.S. military history. I found the animated film both entertaining and interesting. However, with much of the film taking place during intense war action, I can’t say that this film is really family friendly and wonder if it will struggle finding an audience.
The film, which was endorsed by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, was directed by Richard Lanni and written by Lanni and Mike Stokey. While the animation in the film was average at best, the musical score by two-time Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle (Hamlet, Sense and Sensibility) was superb, subtly adding a great deal to the film.
As the film begins, it is the early months of America’s involvement in World War I. We see a hungry stray Boston terrier looking for food. As a military parade goes by, a 25-year-old private Robert Conroy, voiced by Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson films, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), throws the hungry dog a cookie. The dog then follows Conroy and the rest of the men of the 102nd Infantry Regiment back to their training ground at Yale University. Conroy and the dog, whom he names Stubby due to his short tail, bond, and Conroy’s leadership allows the dog to stay and participate in the basic training exercises. Stubby even learns how to salute. Conroy’s closest human friends are the German American Schroeder, voiced by Jim Pharr and Elmer, voiced by Jordan Beck.
When Conroy and his fellow troops are shipped out to the frontlines in France to assist the battle-weary French soldiers, Stubby somehow sneaks aboard the U.S.S. Minnesota. When he is discovered onboard, he becomes their official mascot and is even given his own dog tags.
In France the unit formed one of four infantry regiments in the 26th Division, which was nicknamed the “Yankee Division”, because it was made up of National Guard units from the New England states. The Yankee Division would take part in some of the most intense fighting of the Western Front in 1918, from February to November on the front lines, taking heavy casualties.
We see Stubby proving his worth, from scaring away rats, sniffing out the presence of the enemy, and in a powerful scene, warning French civilians of mustard gas that is coming into their village. For his actions in combat, Stubby was promoted to sergeant.
Oscar nominee Gerard Depardieu (Cyrano de Bergerac), voices the likable French soldier, and restaurant owner/chef, Gaston Baptiste. Although he is in good spirits, we see his weariness, the result of being in intense battles for years, and not having seen his family. Together, with Conroy and Stubby, the three form a bond, becoming the “Three Musketeers”.
Conroy’s sister Margaret, voiced by two-time Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter (The Kings Speech, The Wings of the Dove), narrates the film, giving the viewers updates on where Conroy and his fellow soldiers were, based on letters from the battlefield that she receives from her brother. She was like a mother to him after they lost their parents. Adults will find the history very interesting, but it will be over the heads of young viewers who will instead enjoy Stubby’s brave exploits.
The film shows the horrors of war (gun fighting, grenades, mustard gas, etc.), and also addresses issues such as German Americans fighting in the war, the deadly Spanish flu of 1918, and soldiers being wounded and killed.
I enjoyed Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, and learned a lot about World War I. While the animation was just average, the film features an excellent musical score as it tells the stranger than fiction story of the most decorated dog in U.S. military history, who participated in 17 battles over 18 months. However, due to the intense war scenes that are included in the film, I do not consider this film to be for youngest viewers, and wonder if it will struggle to find an audience. Themes in this film include sacrifice, teamwork, loyalty and friendship.