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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is based on the true story of a stray Boston Terrier that becomes part of the U.S. Army's Yankee Division in World War I, accompanies soldiers to the western front, and ends up the most decorated war dog in American history. It's animated and aimed at kids, but be ready for war-related violence -- including trench warfare, bombings, shootings, gas attacks, etc. A secondary character dies, as do background soldiers audiences don't know personally. And the main characters are nearly killed several times. There's a bit of mild flirting, pipe smoking, and some drinking; one soldier particularly enjoys drinking (and offering) wine. Parents and kids who watch together will have a lot to discuss about WWI history, military dogs, and the movie's messages around teamwork, communication, and courage. Logan Lerman, Gerard Depardieu, and Helena Bonham Carter co-star.
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What's the story?
Based on a true story, SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO chronicles how a plucky Boston Terrier ends up working himself into the 102nd Infantry Regiment's training grounds in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1917. The charming stray is named Stubby by his new human, young Corporal Robert Conroy (voiced by Logan Lerman), who's a member of the Army's 26th (aka "Yankee") Division. Stubby is quickly adopted into the division and becomes its mascot. When the Yankees are deployed to the western front, Stubby hides on the ship with Robert, who's allowed to keep him during active duty in France. While overseas, Stubby accompanies Corporal Conroy and an older French infantryman named Gaston Baptiste (Gerard Depardieu) to the front, eventually becoming an honorary sergeant for his service.
Is it any good?
This animated film has a surprising amount of impact, offering an educational introduction to war history, along with messages of teamwork, courage, and more. The narration by Helena Bonham Carter as Margaret, Conroy's older sister, isn't strictly necessary, but it provides structure to the story, which is based on real events. Lerman's voice performance as a young-ish soldier is believable and sweet, particularly in contrast to Depardieu's worldly, wise Gaston, who becomes part of the "Three Musketeers" with Conroy and Stubby. Younger kids may need more information beyond what the film's exposition offers to understand the story's historical context, although it's possible they'll just focus on Stubby's deeds and not wonder too much about how realistic the movie may or may not be.
Something refreshing about the portrayal of Stubby is that he isn't overly humanized. With the exception of a few tricks (he can salute a superior officer), Stubby does what dogs naturally do: smell, find, dig, retrieve. Stubby doesn't speak, and he only wears a "uniform" when presented with a military-style cape by a French civilian. The movie's war scenes may occasionally be a bit too realistic for more sensitive younger viewers, but there's plenty of sweet humor, too. Informative and clearly well-researched, Sgt. Stubby is interesting enough to keep tweens entertained and cute enough to make younger kids want to learn more about the real dogs of war.
Talk to your kids about ...
What does teamwork mean to you? How did the characters in Sgt. Stubby show good teamwork? Why is teamwork important?
What did you learn from the movie? Did it make you interested in learning more about Stubby's story or those of other "war dogs"?
How close to the truth do you think the movie is? Why might filmmakers decide to change things in a fact-based film?
- In theaters: April 13, 2018
- Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Logan Lerman, Gerard Depardieu
- Director: Richard Lanni
- Studio: Fun Academy Motion Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, History
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: war action and some thematic elements
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