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Blu-ray Review: Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero

December 18, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Based on a true story from World War I, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is a charming animated film that recounts the tale of the first dog to ever be given the rank of Sergeant by the United States Army, and the most decorated pooch in American history.

Stubby is a stray Staffordshire Bull Terrier who wanders into the army training camp on the parade grounds at Yale University in 1918, and almost instantly befriends the young soldier Robert Conroy (Logan Lerman), who takes him in and gives him his name.

While there is some reluctance to having an untrained dog join their ranks, Robert teaches him how to salute, which wins over the general. When the American soldiers are deployed in France to help fight the invading German forces, Stubby finds his way aboard the ship, and becomes both an invaluable part of their regiment and a welcome companion in the trenches, saving many lives by using his acute sense of smell to warn them of incoming gas attacks, and to help locate wounded soldiers in No Man’s Land.

While the storytelling feels a bit simplistic at times, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero also strives to be as historically accurate as possible given the medium and doesn’t shy away from the darker realities of war, albeit in a way that is appropriate for young viewers. The result is a surprisingly sensitive and engaging film that does justice to this true story, while paying tribute to the sacrifices made by both people and animals during the war.

The film is narrated by Robert’s sister Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter), a character who is never seen but talks of the postcards that she is receiving from her brother overseas, and it’s a smart framing device that allows her to provide greater insight into the specifics of the war from an outside perspective. There are also some quieter, dialogue-driven scenes between Robert and Gaston Baptiste (Gérard Depardieu), a French infantryman who becomes a friend to both him and Stubby, and these moments help ground the film and give it some added emotional weight.

Yes, Stubby is an adorable protagonist, but the film thankfully doesn’t try to sugarcoat the story with needless jokes or make it overly cute. While many animated films would have gone the route of having Stubby talk, the filmmakers here have thankfully chosen to believably portray him as a regular dog who did extraordinary things, and the animators do an excellent job of portraying his wide range of emotions through his facial expressions.

The computer animation is decent for something made on a limited budget, with the visuals done at Mikros Image in Montreal and Paris, under the direction of Richard Lanni. The film also utilizes some nicely done 2D elements to help tell the story through news clippings and maps, adding up to a fine animated war movie that serves as both a heartfelt animal adventure and a solid educational tool.

The Blu-ray also includes the two solid featurettes The Making of a Hero: Behind the Scenes and Real to Reel: The True Story of Sgt. Stubby, as well as a short piece entitled Animating History: The Art of Sgt. Stubby, which is basically a progression reel set to music that shows concept art from various parts of the film, and a historical image gallery.

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 84 minutes and rated PG.

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