Monday 20 January 2020

Tribute to a remarkable dog warms the cockles with gentle humour

Film review: Sgt. Stubby, An Unlikely Hero (PG), 6/10

Sgt Stubby: An Unlikely Hero is a remarkable tale of camaraderie during conflict
Sgt Stubby: An Unlikely Hero is a remarkable tale of camaraderie during conflict

Bravery on two and four legs during the First World War wags the tail of director Richard Lanni's charming if lightweight computer-animated history lesson.

Sgt Stubby: An Unlikely Hero pays tribute to the most decorated dog in US history, who served his country for 18 months, predominantly alongside one master for 17 battles and four military campaigns.

This remarkable tale of camaraderie during bitter and bloody conflict made headlines across America and Lanni's picture concludes with photographs of the real-life Stubby and his proud handler, Robert Conroy.

Patriotic pride courses through the veins of a script co-written by Mike Stokey, which narrates the flourishing bond between man and beast in the words of Conroy's sister Margaret (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), who received letters from her younger sibling during his time behind enemy lines.

'This is the true story of a special friendship my brother made while training for the war,' she coos in the opening voiceover.

The narrative is simplistic in order to appeal to children and parents, both of whom will struggle to resists the wide-eye charms of the titular terrier.

More than once, a tear welled in my eye as Stubby demonstrated his unerring, selfless devotion to his human master.

During a military parade in 1917 New Haven, Connecticut, wet-behind-the-ears US Army recruit Robert Conroy (Logan Lerman) tosses food to a stray dog on the street. The mangy mutt follows Conroy - a member of the newly formed 'Yankee' Division - to a nearby training ground where the animal charms fellow enlistees Olsen (Jordan Beck) and Schroeder (Jim Pharr).

Sergeant Casburn (Jason Ezzell) allows the dog, christened Stubby because of its tail, to stay as the regiment's mascot and Conroy trains his four-legged companion to salute. The men ship out to France aboard USS Minnesota with Stubby in tow and commanding officer Colonel Ty (Pharr again) gives his blessing to the creature's tour of duty.

'Make sure he gets some dog tags,' growls the military man.

Consequently, Stubby joins Conroy, Olsen and Schroeder as they join the French lines in Chemins des Dames, where they are taken under the wing of Gaston Baptiste (Gerard Depardieu) from the third regiment.

As the fight against the Germans intensifies, Conroy and co march to Seicheprey where a flu epidemic sweeps through the trenches and the dog's presence buoys spirits in the men's darkest hours.

Sgt Stubby: An Unlikely Hero warms the cockles of cynical hearts with gentle humour and warming sentiment.

The title character follows in the paw prints of Lassie by warnings allied soldiers about an impending mustard gas attack and locating fallen soldiers in no man's land.

Vocal performances are muted but hit the requisite emotional notes to complement Patrick Doyle's rousing orchestral score.

Wexford People

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