By: Steve Pulaski
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is an impressively even-handed account of World War I through the eyes of an Army doughboy and a stray terrier who eventually became his and his squad's most valuable companion. The titular pup wandered into boot-camp and gravitated towards soldier Robert Conroy, and effectively had both his life and those of many others changed when he was accepted as a "mascot" of the 102nd Infantry Regiment. Stubby enjoyed multiple roles in combat, including, but not limited to, warning American soldiers of the whereabouts of German forces, safeguarding wounded troops, and alerting infantries of mustard gas attacks.
The talented individuals at Fun Academy Motion Pictures have taken the famous story of the most decorated war-dog of World War I, let alone the only one to be named "Sergeant," and honor it by creating a largely factual account that would make a delightful viewing for all ages. The same folks resisted the urge to caricaturize Stubby into another insufferable talking animal, instead letting him speak in barks and whimpers with his human companions still able to interact with him smoothly. There is a great common-ground achieved by Richard Lanni (also director) and Mike Stokey, the film's writers, that makes this one of the seldom-seen, contemporary animated films not branded with the Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, or Illumination logo to possess the appeal for both very young children and the demographic most likely to watch World War I documentaries.
While following Conroy (voiced by Logan Lerman), the film is also narrated by Conroy's sister, Margaret (voiced Helena Bonham Carter), who is never seen and only heard. She learns of her brother's attachment to Stubby by way of his many handwritten letters that come back home, detailing many tumultuous events of combat that have left him and his men down but never out. On the frontlines, however, Conroy always operates with a confidence thanks to the assistance of Gaston Baptiste (Gerard Depardieu), a French soldier, and Stubby, who has chummied his way into being adored by everyone, even the ruthless colonel.
Even with its comparatively simplistic animation designs, bloodless depiction of combat, and occasionally cartoon supporting characters, Sgt. Stubby would make a delightful inclusion in an elementary school's history lesson plan. Despite its central premise detailing the unbreakable bond between man and his best friend, Lanni and Stokey admirably contextualize the life of Stubby around the events of World War I, providing for a soft examination of a war so massive (and so long ago) that details have inevitably gotten jumbled. By no means is the film anything more than supplemental to the actual history, yet when granted the opportunity to do the bare-minimum with their story, Lanni and Stokey took it one step further and decided to go beyond the easily exploitable core chemistry.
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero was, however, lucky to get a theatrical release in North America. With a pricetag reportedly around $25 million, the film, from cover to feature presentation, looks like one you'd see go direct-to-video or Netflix in this or any day and age. This is only a knock during the time the film is in theaters; I'm not sure it's worth the average ticket price of $9 (plus however many little ones you bring along). Fun Academy's debut should endure a nice shelf-life if all works out in its favor, as its sweet but sophisticated sensibilities make the brand new Georgia-based studio the latest in a line of animated studios to watch, especially as we quickly approach a new decade.