Cast: Logan Lerman, Helena Bonham Carter, Gerard Depardieu, Jim Pharr
Director: Richard Lanni
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: The incredible true story of a stray dog who became a hero of the First World War. For his keen instincts and fierce loyalty, Stubby is still recognized today as the most decorated canine in American history and the first promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the U.S. Army.
It takes a bold approach to make a movie about World War I and have it targeted at young children, but somehow Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero did just that without sacrificing quality. I do not know how many children know about the horrors that occurred in the trenches of the Western Front, but having an adorable dog there to have the experience with them eases them into one of history’s deadliest wars. While the third act had a strangely unnecessary tone shift with some unneeded details, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is a benign family film that anyone can enjoy.
The film follows our protagonist Stubby, a stray dog on the streets of New Haven, Connecticut, as he tries to maneuver his daily life and find food in the hardest of places. He eventually takes a liking to Robert Conroy (Lerman), a soldier who is training to go fight in World War I. Robert takes him in and after a series of stealthy actions, Stubby finds himself on his way to fight in France with Robert. Now the two must do whatever it takes to stay alive in a time where all hope seems lost. One of the things that I was really impressed by was the animation style. It reminded me of a Dreamworks or Pixar movie from the mid to late 2000’s, but it was very smoothed out for a computer animated movie. There is a scene where Robert is in a state of confusion and the whole world starts to spin around him, and this scene is animated very well. It conveys the idea of panic and distress on-screen while also keeping the center of attention on Robert. Outside of that, I appreciated how the story can shift from a sweet tale about a dog to the horrors of World War I very quickly. You do not see many children’s films that deal with chemical weapons, let alone in a mature manner like this one, so seeing the dangers of mustard gas handled through a dog’s perspective is an interesting yet responsible take on the issue.
One of the main issues Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is a strangely weak third act. After months of fighting in the trenches of France, Stubby, Robert and their friends get to visit Paris. This sequence of events has absolutely no value other than to show them having fun in France and visiting the famous sites. I am not opposed to scenes like this, especially since we have seen them going all the way back to 1927 in films like Wings, but the difference is those scenes provide more character development whereas these did not. The film is a mere 84 minutes long and could have used some of this time to develop some of the supporting characters without feeling too long. Outside of that, I think that this might be a film with too many historical references that a small child may not understand. When General George Patton appears near the end, I do not think the six-year-old in the row in front of me would understand the significance of his appearance. Patton is famous, but he is not on the same level as like a George Washington or someone more recognizable to a young child. Do not get me wrong, I love when a film like this can also be used as an educational tool, but I think this just might be too much for children to grasp.
Overall, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is the type of children’s movie I did not think would ever get a theatrical release, but it did and it is worth a viewing. While not the most groundbreaking animated film of all time, it fits the formula of movies that do enough things right where their flaws get a bit of a pass. It is important for young children to understand the atrocities that were committed during World War I, and if it takes the perspective of a dog to do so, then it gets my seal of approval. Fun Academy Motion Pictures is a very young production company, but if they make more film like this, I can see them having a very bright future.
Overall Score: 7/10