A tenacious little stray dog in New Haven, Connecticut in 1917 winds up being the most decorated canine in U.S. military history. Stubby, so named for his almost non-existent tail, follows “doughboy” Robert Conroy (voiced by Logan Lerman) into his training camp on the eve of America’s entry into World War I. The incredible bond these two develop is the basis of this animated true story, SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO, which you won’t soon forget.
Conroy and Stubby have become inseparable throughout Conroy’s training, with Stubby winning the admiration of platoon leader, Sgt. Casburn (voiced by Jason Ezzell), with his ability to salute. Conroy’s two best friends, Elmer Olsen (voiced by Jordan Beck) and Schroeder (voiced by Jim Pharr), have accepted --- Olsen reluctantly --- Stubby as one of their own. But they are scheduled to ship out to France and Stubby must remain behind. Only Stubby has other ideas!
Reunited with Conroy, the young men and Stubby prepare for battle. Throughout his time in France, Conroy writes letters to his sister, Margaret (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), who also narrates SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO. Stubby proves quite adept at being a soldier. He rids the trenches of rats, he finds wounded soldiers and warns of incoming artillery shells.
Perhaps Stubby’s most useful gift is his remarkable sense of smell which enables him to detect incoming attacks of the deadly mustard gas. He barks the alarm letting the men know to put on their gas masks. He even alerts an entire French village of very appreciative women who sew him a beautiful chamois coat.
At one point, Conroy and Stubby are teamed with a French infantryman named Gaston Baptiste (voiced by Gerard Dépardieu), a chef in his life before the war. Together these three perform incredible acts of courage, peppered with an occasional gourmet meal, and form an indelible friendship.
SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO is such a noble effort for so many reasons, most importantly because it is a true story. The real-life Stubby served in France for 18 months, seeing action in four offensives and 17 battles. After catching a German spy, because he could tell the difference between English and German, Stubby was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He was the first dog to be so honored through combat --- a true American hero for sure.
The film is also an accomplishment for its retelling of this amazing “tail”. The animation is basic but still superb; from the marching doughboys, the ship, the Minnesota, sailing across the Atlantic at night with the full moon shining on the water, to every single, delightful image of Stubby.
Writers Richard Lanni, who also directs, and Mike Stokey II, have delivered a wonderful, believable screenplay to be enjoyed by the entire family. Though SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO is targeted to the younger set, adults will appreciate it as an introduction to a war fought over 100 years ago for their children. And Patrick Doyle has created a marvelous original score which adds to the overall enjoyment.
To those of you who might turn up your nose at an animated feature about a dog in WWI, you’ll be missing one of the most entertaining endeavors David and I have enjoyed in a long while.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
David: SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO is an animated feature-length film that tells the story of a small dog who goes from being a homeless stray in Connecticut to an American icon during World War I. This fearless canine survives 18 months in combat, including saving an entire French village from a mustard gas attack thanks to his extraordinary sense of smell. Stubby’s legacy includes military parades and meeting three American presidents. And it’s all based on a true story.
Pvt. Robert Conroy (voiced by Logan Lerman) is in basic training on the grounds of Yale University in 1917 along with other soldiers who would form the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th “Yankee” Division. A mutt makes his way onto the training site where Pvt. Conroy manages to hide the dog in his barracks, unbeknownst to his superior officer, Sgt. Casburn. And Conroy quickly dubs the little guy “Stubby” based on his small stature and blunted tail.
One of the surprising joys of this story is the unexpected but welcome approval of the army brass in accepting Stubby as the regiment’s mascot. Maybe the fact that Stubby learns to salute the sergeant’s C.O., Col. Ty, has something to do with that. But this is just one moment to treasure in a movie filled with them.
Do not be influenced by the film’s title which sounds a bit like a common children’s cartoon. SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO features often remarkable animation, professional voice overs and an emotionally charged tale of friendship and courage that should capture the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. Lerman and Gerard Dépardieu are exceptional in their voice interpretations.
Whether the story takes us into the trenches of France where American and French soldiers battle the Germans, or quietly transitions to a hillside where Pvt. Conroy and French infantryman Gaston Baptiste (Dépardieu) get to know each other better and enjoy a brief respite from the fighting, this film is totally engaging for moviegoers of all ages. Absent of gore or obvious violence, SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO is fine family entertainment and serves as an historical marker for younger viewers, for at least a portion of WWI.
Is there a greater bond than that between humans and their loyal dogs? Under the guidance of director and co-writer Richard Lanni, along with fellow writer Mike Stokey II, an ex-marine and Vietnam war vet, this film answers that question with a resounding “No!”.
The movie is narrated by Conroy’s older sister, Margaret, (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), while Jordan Beck, a close collaborator with Lanni, voices one of Conroy’s soldier buddies, Elmer Olsen. Beck also served as 2D Sequence Director on the film, an important aspect as we witness maps of France highlighting the towns where the regiment moves to engage the enemy.
An historical note: dogs in wartime date as far back as 600 B.C. In 2018 the U.S. military’s Working Dog program encompassed around 2500 canines, including 700 overseas at any given time. In fact, puppy development specialists selected from six or seven- month-old pups for training, although only half made the grade.
But back to our hero Stubby. He died peacefully at home in 1926 and received a posthumous Purple Heart for his combat injuries. The New York Times even published a half-page obituary of Sgt. Stubby. He is preserved along with his medals by the Smithsonian Institution, and they are on display in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Sgt. Stubby endures as the most decorated war dog in American history.
A moving original score by Patrick Doyle, along with competent editing by Mark Soloman and animation under the Technicolor umbrella, SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO can still be seen today two years after its theatrical release in the U.S. It is available on HBO as a pay-per-view option for a small price, a true bargain especially given the global circumstances where homebound people need whatever distraction they can muster to maintain a sense of normalcy.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!