Sgt. Stubby:  An American Hero

 

            This movie will struggle to find an audience, and that's a shame, because it's heartwarming story worth watching.  It's an animated version of a true event during World War I:  how a stray dog attached himself to a soldier at boot camp, and wound up “over there” in the trenches.  And yes, “Stubby” was actually promoted and decorated as a war hero.

            Private Robert Conroy (the voice of Logan Lerman) joined the Army when America entered the war in 1917.  A local mutt just wouldn't be shooed away, and soon Conroy smuggled food from the mess hall, and taught him to do tricks, like salute with his paw, and stand at attention.  The drill sergeant was amused enough to allow the dog to accompany the recruits on their training exercises, and soon “Stubby” was an important part of the unit, because of the positive “espirit de corps” he was generating. 

            According to the movie, the plan was for the soldiers to leave Stubby behind when they shipped out, but somehow Stubby manages to stowaway aboard the troop ship, and so winds up in France along with the “Yankee Division.”  The story is told from the point of view of Margaret Conroy (the voice of Helena Bonham Carter), Robert's sister, who tells us that Robert's letters home were filled with the antics of Stubby.  He could apparently smell a gas attack before any human, and would warn the soldiers so they could put on their gas masks.  He ran out onto the battlefield to locate wounded soldiers and barked there until the medics arrived.  He even helped warn some local villagers of an imminent gas attack, and the grateful townsfolk made a coat especially for him.

            Stubby was wounded, and so was Private Conroy, who also contracted the dreaded 1918 flu, so there was a time spent in the infirmary, but soon they were both back at the Front, where Stubby famously located a German spy and held him by the seat of his pants until help arrived.  For that act of bravery, Stubby was promoted to Sergeant, and awarded a medal, which he proudly wore on his custom coat.  The story captured the imagination of a war-weary nation, and Stubby became a well-known American celebrity.

            Though the animation makes the battle scenes less bloody and gory, the movie creates a realistic feel to the devastation of trench warfare.  Private Conroy is assigned a liason, a French soldier named Gaston (the voice of Gerard Depardieu), and when they're with Stubby they call themselves “The Three Musketeers.”  There's sadness at the end, because one of Conroy's platoon buddies is killed on the very last day of the war, when the two sides knew they had an Armistice effective at 11 a.m., but apparently fought right up until that moment.  (The Narrator states the obvious: what a tragic waste of young lives, but then, so was the whole War itself, and worse, the aftermath of “the war to end all wars” instead sowed the seeds for World War II.)

            It's a history lesson that might be palatable to older children, particularly the dog lovers.  But people will stay away in droves, because the adults will feel it's an animated kid's movie, and the kids won't want to sit through a history lesson, especially about war.  It's a shame, because “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero” is simply a good story, and well worth the 84 minutes.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association