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Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero – Movie Review

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Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fun Academy Studios

Animated films based on historical wars are unfortunately a rarity, even though there is plenty that could be done with the medium in showing the horror and danger of those conflicts. Despite centering on a cute dog, Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero treats the subject matter seriously and does not sugarcoat the First World War. It certainly aims for a family audience and introduces this war to a younger crowd in a way that highlights what a mess it all was. Director/co-writer Richard Lanni, a documentary filmmaker making the leap to animation, has a lot of respect for the soldiers who risked their lives in the trenches and this pooch who provided the necessary moral.

It doesn’t take long for Sgt. Stubby to highlight the boy and his dog story, with young soldier Robert Conroy forming a touching bond with this heroic and hungry canine. Other animated films might have elected to give Stubby an inner monologue, but this movie respects the audience’s intelligence enough to not pull that trick. The animators make him instantly likeable and endearing, making this friendship easy to believe. The other soldiers Conroy encounters are properly distinctive in their personalities, representing the various young men drafted into the First World War. Even when the story cuts away from Stubby, there is still a personal investment.

The depiction of World War I in Sgt. Stubby is done with utter seriousness by Lanni. A frequent narration by Helena Bonham Carter provides the proper historical context, but the film doesn’t shy away from the loss and destruction on the battlefield. When a bomb explodes in a trench, it’s genuinely terrifying and the film showcases other hardships soldiers had to deal with. The hunger and sickness that would plague the trenches are highlighted and the film establishes the stakes. The faces of the Germans are kept primarily hidden, but we still see the results of their actions. One sequence in which a poisonous gas is unleashed into the air is directed with the necessary drama.

The animators and artists at Mikros Image do a solid job of bringing the First World War to the screen. In addition to the computer animation that encompasses most of Sgt. Stubby, there are occasional 2D sequences that bridge the scenes. The character designs look fairly standard, but the characters are nonetheless well defined and decently voiced. In addition to the Stubby-Conroy friendship, there’s also a camaraderie developed between Conroy and a French soldier. It’s genuinely touching and the film manages to balance all of the aspects of the plot in an impressively short runtime of 80 minutes. We genuinely care about these people and there is a lingering doubt whether they will survive or not.

The subject matter of Sgt. Stubby might make it difficult to find a large audience over the years, but it deserves commending for tackling the war with the proper stakes and sincerity. The animation compliments the story exceptionally well and Richard Lanni puts his World War I knowledge to good use. Dog lovers will find plenty to enjoy here, while history buffs won’t be offended by how the “War to End All Wars” is depicted. For younger audiences, it’s a chance to learn about a notable event in 20th century history that took away too many lives that didn’t deserve to be lost. It’s a fitting tribute to those brave troops.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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