Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero
2018, PG, 85 min. Directed by Richard Lanni. Voices by Logan Lerman, Gérard Depardieu, Helena Bonham Carter, Jordan Beck, Jason Ezzell, Guillaume Sentou, Jim Pharr.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 13, 2018
Refreshingly unsentimental and straightforward, this computer-animated film recalls the forgotten heroism of the purportedly most decorated dog in United States history, a brindle-colored Boston terrier mix who saved the lives of numerous American soldiers during the War to End All Wars a century ago. The official mascot of an infantry regiment on the Western Front, the Army promoted the unimaginatively named Stubby to the honorary rank of sergeant for his widely reported acts of bravery, which ranged from warning his squadron of deadly mustard gas attacks to sniffing out the bodies of wounded doughboys lying in the trenches dug in the French countryside. Although Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero takes a few liberties in its biographical account of this four-legged officer (why would you expect otherwise?), at heart it’s just a doggone, old-fashioned movie. There’s enough bark and bite here to rekindle baby-boomer memories of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, two furry matinee idols whose courageous exploits were undoubtedly inspired by this stray mutt who ended up on the front pages of newspapers around the world. They don’t make ‘em like Stubby anymore, that’s for sure.
No doubt, most kids will be charmed by this perky pup who could raise a front paw to salute on cue, a trick the real-life Stubby allegedly used to win over many of his comrades-in-arms, including a young George Patton. While the movie is neither explicitly violent or bloody, its wartime milieu may trigger anxiety in those sensitive youngsters easily frightened (or, at least puzzled) by men donning gas masks as a poisonous mist drifts toward them, or mud-covered torsos of injured combatants lying immobile on the ground following the explosion of a grenade. (Only one fatality is documented in the movie, and it’s subtly communicated without the view of a corpse.) On the flip side, the movie may engender a healthy dialogue with young audience members about this slice of early 20th century history. Most grownups will have a difficult time, however, explaining the film’s accurate depiction of continued fighting by all warring sides right up until Armistice Day, the date the warring nations designated as when the hostilities would officially end. The seemingly unnecessary loss of countless lives during those final days of World War I, a metaphorical no man’s land created by the stroke of a pen, defies any rational comprehension, no matter what your age may be.