Around the time I wrote my warmly received Hidden History article on the American war dog, Sergeant Stubby, I also discovered that a feature-length animated film about his exploits in World War I (WWI) was in production. Directed by Richard Lanni and produced by Fun Academy Motion Pictures, “Sgt Stubby: An American Hero” marched its way into theaters on April 13, featuring the voices of Logan Lerman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Gérard Depardieu. How, then, does the Boston Terrier’s portrayal on the big screen compare to his real story? In the very first (and possibly only) Hidden History fact check, we’ll look at how well the movie iteration of Stubby’s story compares to what was real.
For an animated movie marketed primarily towards children, “Sgt Stubby: An American Hero” is surprisingly authentic in its portrayal of WWI and life in the trenches. While the film shies away from showing any direct violence or casualties, the gravity of combat still permeates throughout the film. The constant fear of artillery strikes, mustard gas attacks, and the opposing army across No Man’s Land lingers throughout the portrayal of the frontline. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many authentic WWI details were included in the film. For example, American soldiers are correctly shown using the M1903 Springfield rifle while their French counterparts use their older Lebel Model 1886 rifles. Or consider how the film included a mention of the 1918 flu pandemic, which was responsible for over half of the total U.S. casualties in the war. Details both large and small help contribute to the film’s respectful treatment of WWI in a way that is still palatable by younger audiences.
But who cares about the war? How does the film go about honoring Stubby’s legacy? I am very happy to report to my Hidden History aficionados out there that “Sgt Stubby: An American Hero” gives our favorite historical canine the respect he deserves. Many of his amazing real-life exploits are shown in the film. From learning the marching routines of the 102nd Infantry Regiment during their training at Yale University to him learning to salute commanding officers, the movie version of Stubby is just as memorable as the real one. The movie goes to great lengths to show the incredible feats of his real-life story, including warning Allied soldiers of incoming gas attacks, running into the dreaded No Man’s Land to find wounded soldiers, and even capturing a German spy. The film even goes as far as to digitally recreate several real-life photos of Stubby, which are then peppered throughout the credits sequence.
Fans of Stubby’s story will leave this movie more than satisfied at seeing his feats brought to life. Despite being an animated movie, Stubby is shown as just a dog - no anthropomorphism or unexpected musical numbers here. His barks, trots, and tongue wags are all equally adorable and immersive. If you previously read my Hidden History piece on the beloved Sgt. Stubby, you should definitely consider seeing the cinematic portrayal of his experiences in “Sgt Stubby: An American Hero,” available now in theaters.