Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero
dir Richard Lanni
scr Richard Lanni, Mike Stokey II
prd Emily Cantrill, Laurent Rodon
voices Logan Lerman, Helena Bonham Carter, Gerard Depardieu, Jordan Beck, Jim Pharr, Jason Ezzell, Guillaume Sentou, Christophe Lemoine, Nick Rulon, Brian Cook, Audrey Sable, Coline Haas
release US 13.Apr.18, UK 10.Aug.18
18/France 1h24
Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero
A dog and his boy: Stubby and Robert

lerman bonham carter depardieu
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero Based on a true story, this is such a resoundingly enjoyable narrative that it doesn't matter that the animation isn't quite up to Hollywood standards. It all looks rather plasticky, but that doesn't matter when the characters and plot are this gripping. And filmmaker Richard Lanni directs the film with an eye for action. It of course helps that it centres on the most decorated dog in US military history.

A stray stub-tailed bull terrier in Connecticut, the Stubby is adopted by Robert (Lerman), who has enlisted to fight in the Great War. Accompanying Robert through training, Stubby becomes the unit's relentlessly cheerful mascot, training right alongside the soldiers. When they're shipped off to Europe, Stubby sneaks aboard, travelling with the men to the front in France. He immediately helps out by clearing rats from the trenches, then locates injured soldiers on the battlefield. And through a series of daring actions, Stubby becomes a hero.

The story is narrated by Robert's sister Margaret, voiced by Bonham Carter, who gives the film a nice sense of gravitas. But the dog is the star: smart, mischievous and tenacious. His buoyant spirit is seriously engaging. And human characters are strong as well, voiced without affectation by an adept cast. Lerman's Robert is likeable, while Depardieu lends some spark as a French infantryman. But it's Stubby's daring actions that get the pulse racing.

Without the micro-detail of big-budget animation houses, the artists here excel at keeping the imagery grounded in real life. Landscapes are beautiful, battles are harrowing, and most scenes include welcome comical touches. A sequence in which Stubby saves a French village from a mustard gas attack is particularly intense. So even if the movie sometimes feels a little simplistic, it beautifully conveys a sense of the larger story of World War I. And the thrilling incidents in this film actually took place.

This authenticity adds a real sense of peril, even if the filmmakers tone the violence down for a younger audience. Still, the gunfire and explosions are frightening, and add weight to each anecdote about this extraordinary life-saving pooch. The story is packed with moments of surging emotion that are never over-egged. Stubby is the only dog ever promoted to sergeant through combat; his bravery made him so famous that, after he died nearly a decade later, he received a half-page obit in the New York Times and a permanent place in the Smithsonian.

cert pg themes, violence 4.Aug.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall