At the request of Free Beacon head honcho Michael Goldfarb, I recently checked out Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero. Though dismissive at first of the idea of reviewing an animated film about America’s most-decorated dog, I eventually came around. After all, as Mr. Goldfarb put it: "Every cartoon my kids watch is cramming social justice bullshit down their little throats and finally—a movie about killing the Hun!"
One is immediately struck by the mise-en-scene of director and co-writer Richard Lanni’s film: his is an idealized sort of America, one where can-do spirit overcomes all manner of obstacles. Before he was Sgt. Stubby he was just an unnamed mutt living on the street, stealing bones out of trashcans and avoiding cars in the streets. After attaching himself to a regiment of doughboys headed off to World War One, Stubby wins over the heart of a gruff drill sergeant and becomes the mascot for the troops.
It isn’t until we get to the frontlines in France that we see Stubby’s true worth. He clears the trenches of vermin, warns of incoming gas attacks, and finds wounded men in No-Man’s-Land. More than that, though, Stubby imbues the American troops so far from home with a sort of will to live, nursing back to health an ailing young man suffering from Spanish influenza. Sgt. Stubby is truly a meditation on the meaning of "man’s best friend," a reminder that we’ve evolved alongside dogs for millennia.
Dogs have often been useful components of American propaganda films; who can forget the scrappy little pup Skippy gunned down by wicked Japanese invaders in the classic film Wake Island? But Sgt. Stubby kicks it up a notch, placing a pooch in the center of all the action while simultaneously reminding younger audiences of the centrality of American assistance in the anti-German efforts by focusing on the adventures of a cute dog.
Contra Mr. Goldfarb, you don’t see any Huns get gunned down; this is a film that would’ve fit firmly within the strictures of the Hays Code. There’s no Milius or Peckinpah here, despite the brutality of the Great War. If you want death and decay, you’re better off checking out Peter Jackson’s new documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old.
But if you’re looking for something the whole family can enjoy—an entertaining look at life on the western front that reminds the kids just how much America matters in the world—Sgt. Stubby’s the flick for you.