Directed by: #RichardLanni
Written by: Richard Lanni, #MikeStokey
Regardless of the conflict, the actions of our fellow humans typically dominate the history of war. Such anthropocentric biases are equally evident within the countless filmic recreations of civilization’s darkest moments that specifically focus on human endeavor and heroism. Consequently, the integral service of our animal comrades has all too often gone unrealised within the cinematographic annals of history. Richard Lanni’s heartening war-film Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero however, proffers a persuasive reconsideration of the unsung heroes of victory irrespective of species.
Sgt. Stubby depicts the valiance of the real-life eponymous mutt who became the official mascot of the United States’ 102nd Infantry Regiment during the First World War. After unwittingly stumbling into an army boot camp, Stubby swiftly builds a rapport with the soldiers especially young Corporal Robert Conroy. The ensuing loyalty between the two results in Stubby accompanying the troops within the French trenches as they combat the Germans. Although the Regiment is reluctant to accept the merit of Stubby, his unique lifesaving talents eventually acquire him the status as the most decorated dog of World War One.
Watching Sgt. Stubby is an uplifting experience. Now, one may feel that assessing a family film about a heroic animal as ‘uplifting’ is a truism in the greatest sense of the word. Yet contrarily, one does not derive the same satisfaction from watching Rover Dangerfield or Valiant as they do with Lanni’s work. This is due in part to Lanni and Mike Stokey’s screenplay which maintains a necessary degree of simplicity without delving into sheer patronization.
In fact, Sgt. Stubby is a rare example of modern family-oriented animation that maintains a lighthearted tone without forgoing the inevitably bleaker side of reality. The First World War was full of horrors like mustard gas attacks and Lanni and Stokey refuse to veil the fact. Yet neither is the violence depicted throughout Sgt. Stubby to an extent that it terrorizes its more sensitive viewers. The resulting film is a pleasurable experience that functions as a crucial introduction to a pivotal moment in history by retelling one of its more universally optimistic narratives.
It is not only the masterful tact within Sgt. Stubby’s script that produces a gratifying viewing experience. It is evident throughout the film that Mikros Image shared an exact vision with Lanni to create an uncondescending depiction of the First World War. As a result, their animation is exemplary inasmuch as it maintains their uniquely palatable stylings but fills each frame with multi-dimensional detail.
Through the immense work of Mikros Image, Sgt. Stubby is subsequently grounded in a comprehensive reality whilst maintaining a unique image thereby demonstrating the contagious passion of their animators. Likewise, Lanni’s direction as well as his work alongside Stokey exemplifies his genuine commitment to creating an experience that is equal parts educationally fulfilling as it is enjoyable. It is this tandem that allows Sgt. Stubby to stand out within the continuously saturated field of contemporary family animation.