Plot: As World War I pushes on, a group of new recruits is going through the trials of basic training, including Private Conroy. While he and his fellow soldiers are doing well in the training process, they could use a boost of morale and that arrives a stray dog wanders into the camp. The dog is drawn to Conroy, who feeds and cares for the little guy, while keeping him hidden from his superiors. All the while, the dog watches the soldiers and even picks up some tricks, which is what saves him when the camp leader learns about his presence. After all, if the little dog can keep up, bolster the spirits of the men, and even salute, he deserves a place in the squad. He is even a name, Stubby and while the plan is for him to stay and help a new class of recruits, he doesn’t want to be separated from Conroy, so he escapes and stows aboard the crew’s ship, as it travels to the frontlines. While Stubby was a great soldier in basic training, does he have what it takes to survive and assist the men on a real battlefield?
Entertainment Value: This movie is based on the wild, real life experiences of Sgt. Stubby, the most decorated dog in the United States military forces. The little dog served well and was part of several campaigns, before a peaceful end at his home and an eventual permanent display at the Smithsonian. As this is a movie aimed at a younger audience, it glosses over most of the horrors of war and presents Stubby’s service in a more low stakes, light hearted approach. In other words, while Stubby faces some danger at times, the tone leads us to be safe and secure in his survival and little bad happens to those around him. So if you want historical accuracy, I doubt this is on point, but it does have roots in the real events, such as when Stubby captured a German spy by biting him in the rear end. So while the story takes some tonal liberties, it is a fun flick and perhaps younger viewers will want to learn more about the real life Stubby, as he is an interesting canine. Aside from some mild war related tension, such as some injuries and a scene that involves mustard gas, the tone is light and as I said, there’s no real risk of danger or lost lives here. The sense of humor is broad, but provides some laughs and Stubby himself is a lot of fun, I think.
The voice cast here is more than solid, but as a whole, isn’t up to the usual standards of Pixar or Blue Sky Studios. Logan Lerman plays Conroy and his performance is fine, if a little forgettable. Although to be fair, Conroy isn’t all that interesting of a character, so I suppose there’s only so much that could spice up that part. Aside from Stubby himself, the most memorable role here is Gaston, who is voiced by Gerard Depardieu. His turn is warm and humorous, making the most of the opportunities to shine given by the script and serving as a solid anchor for the cast. Helena Bonham Carter is also present as our narrator of sorts and she is fine, hitting all the needed elements there. But overall, the voice work feels more like a direct to video feature, which is a shame, since the story is so interesting. The same holds true of the animation, which looks bright and colorful, but lacks the detail and polish we’ve come to expect from theatrical animation. Even so, the movie has some fun designs and all of Stubby’s animations look good, which is the main point, I think. Despite the less than ideal production values, Sgt. Stubby stands as a solid watch and the story alone makes it worth a look.