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"SGT. STUBBY AN AMERICAN HERO"
(2018) (voices of Logan Lerman, Gerard Depardieu) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A dog accompanies American soldiers as they travel to France to fight the Germans in WWI.
PLOT:
It's 1917 and America has recently enteredWWI, and thus many young men are training all across the country for deployment. That includes Robert Conroy (voice of LOGAN LERMAN) who's stationed in New Haven, Connecticut alongside the likes of Olsen (voice of JORDAN BECK), Schroeder (voice of JIM PHARR) and other young men under the command of Sgt. Cashburn (voice of JASON EZZELL).

When Robert ends up tossing a cookie to a stray terrier during a military march, he unexpectedly finds himself a companion, and seeing how well-trained the dog is -- including the ability to salute with his paw -- both Cashburn and later Colonel Ty (JIM PHARR) allow the dog -- now named Stubby -- to stay with the infantry regiment.

When they're shipped out for France, Robert doesn't expect to see Stubby again, but the dog manages to free himself, get to the shipyard, and board the ship. He ends up joining the young men in trench warfare in early 1918 and finds another supporter in French chef turned soldier Gaston Baptiste (voice of GERARD DEPARDIEU) who also becomes Robert's close friend.

As the war rages on, Stubby helps out the troops in numerous ways, all as recounted after the fact by Robert's never seen but occasionally heard sister, Margaret (voice of HELENA BONHAM CARTER), who learned of the dog's exploits via letters from her brother.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
One side benefit of being a movie reviewer is occasionally researching the subject matter related to a new release and learning something new. Yes, in today's world of the Internet, that can lead to a trip burrowing down through a rabbit hole of web pages, articles and such and suddenly finding that numerous hours have passed by.

Regardless of the lost time, it's still interesting to read and learn about things that had escaped one's attention over the years. Such is the case from some background research for the release of a new computer-animated account of the most decorated dog of WWI, Sgt. Stubby.

My research discovered a literal menagerie of animals -- some named, most anonymous -- that served in various ways in various wars, ranging from the present day all of the way back to ancient times (including yes, Hannibal and his elephants).

In "Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero," the focus is on the titular terrier who was so famous after 17 battles, 4 campaigns, and 18 months in service that upon his death and a visit to a taxidermist, he ended up in the Smithsonian Museum's "The Price of Freedom" exhibition alongside a carrier pigeon named Cher Ami who was credited for saving almost 200 troops despite being severely injured.

As far as I know, the pooch and the pigeon never met, but the mind reels at the entertainment prospect of Stubby and Cher, including the possible use of Sonny and Cher's "The Beat Goes On" with the all-too-relevant lyric of "And men still keep on marching off to war."

But I digress as this isn't that sort of film and our canine isn't of the talking animal variety. Some of his emotions and reactions, however, are occasionally anthropomorphized to make him more appealing to younger kids who I'm guessing are the intended target audience for this offering that feels a bit more like a foreign animated film than a traditional American one, what with its fairly serious subject matter of war.

As told by writer/director Richard Lanni and co-writer Mike Stokey II, the film focuses on the stray stumbling upon a military march and becoming fixed to a young G.I. named Robert Conroy (voiced by Logan Lerman) after being thrown a cookie. The dog then ends up staying with him and his fellow trainees, Olsen (Jordan Beck) and Schroeder (Jim Pharr), and then manages to untie himself, race after and board a train, and then secretly sneak onto a transport ship carrying his human buddies off to war (with some artistic license taken with how the dog really ended up in French trench combat).

There, the unit is paired up with beleaguered French forces, although one soldier in particular -- an older chef named Gaston Baptiste (Gerard Depardieu) -- seems to maintain a happy spirit despite his perilous situation and that he hasn't seen his family in two years. All of this is occasionally accompanied by voice-over narration supplied by Robert's never-seen sister (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) who provides some color commentary, historical facts, and situational elements.

The film ends up being somewhat of an odd duck in the animation genre in that it's obviously aimed at younger kids on one hand (what with the dog, obviously, but also being presented in computer animation rather than live action with a real or CGI dog), yet doesn't shy away from the grim realities of war (although it thankfully never gets severe enough to push past the PG rating). After all, I don't recall any Pixar films featuring realistic mustard gas attacks or faithfully rendered trench warfare scenes (all of the animation is good).

I'm giving "Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero" a recommendation, but parents should be warned that while they might be expecting a cute and perhaps talking dog flick for the entertainment of their little one(s), this is a by-the-books but often mature and serious look at the horrors of war. It rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed April 8, 2018 / Posted April 13, 2018


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