New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: MOVIE REVIEW: Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero




The following question may be short, but it is undoubtedly difficult. How can a movie present a war to an audience of children? That crux of a query only leads to others. How would it address violence and human loss? How can proper history be informed in an entertaining manner? Where can engaging connections be forged? What inspirational source can be an overture to do all of that?  

The filmmakers and artists at Fun Academy Motion Pictures answered that line of questioning the best way it ever can be: with a true story.  Even better, they do so with a dog, in a humdinger of a tale far beyond a click-bait or “stop me if you heard this one” trivia that needs to be seen to be believed. Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that authenticity always earns appreciation. It’s even better when it resonates. This movie earns both.  Discover something astonishing and adorable at the same time.

The stray Boston terrier mix that will become the title character of this movie begins as a starving pooch on the streets of New Haven, Connecticut.  Chasing attention and his next meal, he finds himself on the campus of Yale University where the doughboys of the 126th Infantry Unit are being trained to join the Great War in Europe.  A benevolent corporal named Robert Conroy (voiced by Logan Lerman) takes him in (more like “he found me,” by the soldier’s words), and the dog’s zest endears himself to the commanding officers and the whole unit.  The little tail-wagger even learns how to salute.

LESSON #1: MAN’S BEST FRIENDS ARE INSTANT MORALE BOOSTERS— There’s something to be said about having an innocent presence like a pet to lift spirits.  Stubby increases happiness in a place with grim prospects.  Dogs lower stress, increase social behavior, and boost personal fitness.  You have young men in uniform wavering and fearing the known and unknown horrors of war that await them overseas.  The reality of not knowing their fate is very real. Stubby is an affectionate walking, running, barking, and sniffing tonic for those bad vibes.  His pluck and gait match this lesson and then some.

LESSON #2: HAVING A KEEN SURVIVAL INSTINCT— Thanks to heightened hearing and smell, the intuition level of a dog is superior to man’s.  Those instincts can be helpfully utilized on a battlefield. Sgt. Stubby earned his keep and his kudos clearing out vermin in the trenches, warning soldiers of incoming or nearby gas attacks, and sniffing out buried soldiers for the stretcher-bearers. These acts saved lives before, during, and after the bullets flew.  His resourcefulness leads to contagious courage.  

LESSON #3: WHEN THE UNREAL IS REAL— Believe it or not in puting cuteness and purity aside, this remains a true story.  That’s not just lip service. Go ahead and look up Stubby’s full biography, complete with posthumous enshrinement at the National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. His exploits are legitimate and go beyond what fits into this orderly 84-minute movie.  “Remarkable” and “incredible” are too light of adjectives to fully celebrate this legacy. To learn more, Fun Academy has started the “Stubby Squad” for fans to dive into more history and content about what this special dog was all about.  These are perfect extensions for young viewers and educators. 

LESSON #4: USE THIS MOVIE AS A MILD PRIMER TO THE GREAT WAR— Sure, this movie isn’t as dark as All Quiet on the Western Front, dramatic as Paths of Glory, or as kinetic as 1917, but it doesn’t need to be.  This is an excellent jumping off point for younger audiences not ready for the harder stuff.  Narrated transitions voiced by Helena Bonham Carter playing Conroy’s sister Margaret detail the maps and movements of the 26th Yankee Division and the interwoven chain of events that outline the conflict.  The set pieces covering the experiences and cultures of the basic training, international travel, trench warfare, and even a cherry-on-top cameo from George Patton become a safe and entry level treatise to World War I.

The voice talents are tender and committed every step of the way from Lerman and Carter on down to the grand presence of Gerard Depardieu as a French ally.  This is not the flashiest movie animation, but it doesn’t need to be. The story matters more than the art ever will. Even so, director Richard Lanni and his team of animators use very good scene movement to equal the dog’s lower level of travel, scrapes, and spills. There are plenty of orange-colored skies and vibrant colors to shine hope through this stirring tale.  Veteran composer and two-time Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle raises that rousing soul even greater with his steady score.

Folks, if you cannot already see, what you’re getting here with Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is unvarnished quality. In the course of its festival run, the film earned 24 best feature, best of show, or best animated feature laurels.  The film was also awarded the Parents’ Choice Gold Award and The Dove Foundation‘s All Ages Seal of Approval. The film was endorsed by the American Legion, Armed Services YMCA, the United States World War One Centennial Commission, and the Humane Society of the United States.  The Dove Foundation cites “integrity” as its highest quality and this critic couldn’t agree more.

LESSON #5: RALLYING CALL FOR RESCUE DOGS— If you want a century-long bridge built between the World War I era of Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero and the present day, look no further than the gesture of adopting a rescue dog.  Like many other dogs, Stubby could have continued his life owner-less on those Connecticut streets and doomed to a captured fate in a pound.  Instead, through benevolence, he finds a patient companion and a dedicated purpose. Consider this movie a righteous cheer to give more future four-legged heroes homes of their own.  Your Stubby doesn’t have to go to war to win your heart.

I was lucky enough to join the hosts of the Feelin’ Film Podcast to interview Jordan Beck, a 2D Sequence Director and Voice Actor for Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero. Check out this excellent conversation:

FF+ “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero” Podcast




from REVIEW BLOG – Every Movie Has a Lesson

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