SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO review

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Oh wow, an animated comedy about a dog in World War I. I feel like this is going to be a trainwreck.

Okay, so a brief history lesson.
You can learn more about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergeant_Stubby

Sergeant Stubby was a Boston/Bull Terrier who served with the 102nd Infantry Regiment in World War I and served with his unit for eighteen months. He boosted morale, helped find wounded soldiers, got wounded himself multiple times, warned his fellow soldiers of gas attacks, among other things. I’d say spoiler alert, but Stubby survived his time overseas and even met a few presidents.

This is what I assume this movie is about: Stubby’s time during World War I.

Here’s the voice talent. Starring, have Logan Lerman (INDIGNATION [2016] and the upcoming END OF SENTENCE [2018]), Helena Bonham Carter (ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS [2016] and the upcoming OCEAN’S 8 [2018]), and Gérard Depardieu (THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK [1998]).

Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Richard Lanni, known for a couple of things that I’ve never heard of. Lanni’s partner-in-pen is Mike Stokey, making his feature film debut. Congrats, sir. Composing the score is Patrick Doyle, known for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), EMOJI MOVIE (2017), A UNITED KINGDOM (2017), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL (2019). Finally, the editor is Mark Solomon, known for SHERLOCK GNOMES (2018), TALE OF DESPEREAUX (2008), and CHICKEN RUN (2000).

Overall, this is going either way: really good, or really bad. World War I was arguably a worse war than WWII, so how they’re going to manage to make that suitable for families and kids is more than a little intriguing. So… we’ll see.

This is my honest opinion of: SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO

 

(SUMMARY)

Set during World War I, circa 1918. A stray dog follows American boot camp trainee Robert Conroy (voiced by Logan Lerman) to his training camp and inadvertently becomes the unofficial mascot for the group. The dog, named “Stubby” by Robert, trains alongside him and the two eventually get shipped off to France to aide the French against the German forces.

(REVIEW)

No joke, this movie is surprising really good. In more than a couple ways, it’s kind of great.

For one thing, the movie is surprisingly mature for a movie that’s got the animation quality of a good CartoonNetwork cartoon. There’s no blood, or cursing in the movie, but the war scenes are pretty intense, full of bullets whizzing by and explosions. There’s even close-up shots of hands and visuals of an explosion and then a soldier getting buried under a mound of dirt and debris. And yes, people do die. Not often, but they do, with effective emotional weight added to it. The movie is really clever with adding a real sense of danger when the gas masks are implemented. The moment they’re introduced, it’s also the moment that Stubby is introduced to them and growls at the masks. In boot camp, there’s a training segment where the trainees have to enter a house rigged with gas and must learn to deal with the effects. Though the gas is only tear gas, and not the more dangerous mustard gas, it still leaves an impact on the characters who can’t handle it right away and even Stubby doesn’t handle it well. But once they’re shipped overseas, Stubby’s historical contributions are made front and center. I can’t attest to how valid the information is, but Stubby chases off the rats in the trenches. I would think that makes sense. It’s little tidbits of information like this that make the real dog’s story all the more engaging and educational. And seriously, nothing is cuter than seeing Stubby salute in his own dog way.

What I also appreciate about Stubby’s design is that, even though it’s clearly cartoonishly expressive, he still acts like a normal dog for the most part. He’ll chase and bite at fireflies, leap to catch a ball being thrown, legitimately doesn’t always know what’s going on until the last minute, and even more impressively, he doesn’t talk! Not with vocal chords, or even with an inner monologue voiced by Matt Damon, or something stupid like that. Nope, he’s just a normal dog, which is unbelievably refreshing. Plus, the comedy really shines through. Like, when Stubby is put on a leash for the first time in boot camp, Robert accidentally pulls Stubby back and the pooch falls down with a confused expression on his face. I admit to cracking up at that moment.

Sadly, I do have a few nitpicks that prevent me from truly loving the movie.

For one thing, as anyone who knows me really well, knows that I do not like pointless narrations. On the one hand, I’m trying to remember that the target audience is kids and it’s trying to be historically accurate, so I probably should just let it slide for this specific movie. Having said that, it does legitimately bother me that it’s narrated by a character that we never see in the actual story: Margaret (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter). She’s supposedly Robert’s older sister, which seems like a pointless detail. There’s even a quick bit toward the end where Robert says, “I can’t wait to introduce Stubby to my sisters,” or something like that, but it weirdly never happens. Not that I’m opposed to Carter narrating an animated kids WWI movie, but couldn’t she just be a standard narrator instead of a character that we never get to meet?

Also, did Stubby really start off barking and growling at the French early on? His prejudice seemed a bit out of character and pointlessly mean-spirited. It barely had a strong enough reason to begin with (a quick brawl between a rude French cook and an American soldier) and doesn’t last long, so what was the point in that? Also, some of the editing is pretty clunky. One minute, the characters are sitting down, staring off into a sunset over beautiful scenery, and one comments, “Here, we can forget the war,” and then a second later, EXPLOSIONS AND BATTLE!!! It’s pretty clumsy that way. It really only happens once or twice in that fashion, but it’s present and kind of lame.

Overall, this was a really good movie. Yeah, I have a few nitpicks here and there, but they barely drag the movie down. It treats its young audience with respect, doesn’t shy away from harsh visuals and reality, seems pretty historically accurate to Stubby’s role in the war, as well as the impact he had, isn’t afraid to have lighter moments, and does a great job creating connections and giving the audience, both young and old, something to relate to. While I’m sure this movie is going to be a challenge to find in theaters at this point, if you can find it, I’m giving this movie a high recommendation, whether you have kids or not. If not in theaters, then seriously keep an eye out for it when it becomes available for rental. Personally, I wouldn’t mind owning this on Blu-Ray, I think it’s that good. It may not be movie of the year, but it’s a worthy animated film for all ages. It’s arguably the best animated dog movie in years.

My honest rating for SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO: a strong 4/5

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