SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO – COMPLETELY FAMILY FRIENDLY ANIMATED HISTORICALLY ACCURATE DELIGHT ABOUT A FOUR LEGGED WORLD WAR I SOLDIER

SHORT TAKE:

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero is a wonderful animated history of American Sgt. Stubby, a small mixed pitbull, the only dog to achieve rank and combat advancement, who followed his master’s Yankee Division regiment into the desperately dangerous front line trenches of World War I France.

WHO CAN GO:

With rare unequivocalness, I can recommend this movie for EVERYONE of any age.

LONG TAKE:

Years ago my brother, Bill, and I watched Lethal Weapon 2 on TV. There was a scene where Gibson as Martin Riggs, his dog Sam and Riggs' girlfriend du jour were under attack – helicopters, guns, lots of shooting. Bill turned to me and knowing what my primary concern would be said, "Don’t worry the dog survives." So rest assured to any parents concerned about bringing their small children to a movie about a cute dog on the front lines in World War I trenches, I have no compunction about a spoiler to let you know Sgt. Stubby is VERY child friendly.

Directed by Richard Lanni, in his first non-documentary feature film, and written by Lanni and Mike Stokey, the latter a combat vet and experienced film consultant on everything military, Sgt. Stubby is a mostly historically accurate telling of a stray miniature pit bull mix who attached himself to the 102nd Infantry Regiment Yankee Division, especially one Private Robert Conroy. Conroy is voiced by Logan Lerman, known for Fury, the Percy Jackson movies, 2011's steam-punk version of The Three Musketeers, and the most recent (and vastly underappreciated) Noah. (As a side note see Word on Fire’s Bishop Barron’s review of Noah before coming down too hard on Noah.)

In a delightful surprising supporting role, the amazing French actor, Gerard Depardieu brings Gaston Baptiste to life. Depardieu, with over 233 credits to his name is, to my mind, of note for the best Cyrano de Bergerac (short of the updated romantic comedy by Steve Martin, Roxanne), the funniest Porthos from 1998's Man in the Iron Mask, and the almost unique appearance of the character Reynaldo in Branagh’s unabridged Hamlet. Depardieu, leading man in both French and American movies, accomplished winemaker and restauranteur, has appeared mostly in historical dramas and romantic comedies. Baptiste, drawn to loosely look like Mr. Depardieu, is a large gentle giant of a veteran Frenchman who, in his civilian life, is a chef and takes Conroy, Stubby and Conroy’s closest human friends under his wing to help them survive in the trenches.

Stubby became the mascot of the Yankee Division, wandering onto the grounds of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut where the troops were training. Stubby ended up going with the men to the front lines in France for 18 months – in the trenches, raising morale, chasing out vermin, locating the injured, alerting the men to incoming bombs and impending gas clouds, and warning of approaching Germans. He was the most decorated dog in World War I and the only dog to ever achieve rank and then a combat promotion which he won for heroics during battle, including receiving a war wound.

Sgt Stubby is told through the medium of letters written home to Conroy’s sister Margaret, voiced by Helen Bonham Carter. Carter is best known for her scary roles including Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter franchise, the Red Queen in 2010's Alice in Wonderland, and Madam Thenardier from Les Mis. She is not quite as well known for some truly lovely and far gentler roles, such as the devoted wife of George VI in The King’s Speech. Her narration as Margaret in Sgt. Stubby ranks with her performance as Queen Elizabeth.

Sgt. Stubby reminded me of the old Disney and Warner Brothers animated shorts made during World War II promoting patriotism, explaining rationing, and cautioning against "loose lips". It was delightful to see that kind of straight forward common sense view of America and her allies against a common enemy AND with all the benefits of beautiful modern animation, all structured by the genuinely amazing events of this little dog.

From what I have read there were SOME historical liberties taken – for example Stubby does not manage to get onto the ship alone through sheer will and determination to find his master, but was smuggled onto the ship by Conroy. However, MOST of the other notable adventures really occurred – of which I hesitate to mention for fear of spoilers and ruining some surprises.

This is a VERY VERY child friendly movie. Even the battle injuries sustained by the soldiers are "shown" through mild reactions of other soldiers, or occur off screen or simply are just not shown but spoken of as one might during a stage play without actually showing any blood or wound. My two year old grandson, who ADORES dogs and is especially fond of our American Staffordshire mix, was not upset by any of the proceedings. During suspenseful moments he occasionally spoke a word of encouragement to Stubby but was otherwise transfixed. Two ten year old little girls who came with us and all the moms found the movie equally enjoyable. My ten year old "co-reviewers" both gave Stubby a definite "two thumbs up".

One of the other moms noted to me that, not only was Stubby a good and wholesomely entertaining movie, but it was genuinely educational. Maps of France, the trenches, the battle front lines, the advances and retreats were clearly drawn and animated, making it quite easy to follow the progress of the war. Details of uniforms and weaponry, the barbed wire, insignia on the bombs, movement of weaponry and conditions of the trenches seemed to be very carefully considered.

So I’d say – bring your dog obsessed two year old, bring grandma whose grandfather might have fought at Chemin des Dames, bring your older teen majoring in history at college, bring a girl on a first date, bring your friends to watch a feel good patriotic movie about the true exploits of brave American and French soldiers – both two and four footed, who fought selflessly to protect their countries and each other.

12 STRONG – THOR ON HORSEBACK AGAINST TANKS!? WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE!!

SHORT TAKE:

Inspiring re-enactment of Task Force Dagger, the mission of an elite group of American Soldiers with their Northern Alliance allies who fought the Taliban against overwhelming odds in Afghanistan weeks after the 9/11 atrocity.

LONG TAKE:

I once had a coffee cup with the inscription: "Do not annoy the writer or she might put you in a book and kill you." Similarly, I might advise: "If you are the commanding officer of an aspiring actor, be nice or he might end up portraying you in a movie." Such is just one piece of serendipitous trivia in 12 Strong, a movie which cinematically tells how an elite group of our soldiers volunteered to go to Afghanistan for a trip which, but for the grace of God, should have been a suicide mission, entering a country and city they knew little about to work with a local insurgent who might have sold them out for their $100,000 a piece bounty, to fight 5,000 to 1 odds on foot and horseback to guide air drops against an entrenched vicious Taliban using tanks and armored artillary.

The script is based upon the experiences of a group of American elite military forces led by Mark Nutsch, who is renamed Mitch Nelson in the movie and played by Thor – I mean Chris Hemsworth. And let us not forget that Hemsworth also was George Kirk during the best 15 minutes of cinematic science fiction at the beginning of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. I only mention these movies to remind you that Hemsworth is fantastic at playing noble, courageous heroes. And he once again is awesome in 12 Strong. (As a side note, Captain Nutsch has mentioned that being played by "Thor" has gotten him some serious brownie points with his kids.)

The story is of the special forces sent weeks after the 9/11 World Trade Center/Pentagon attack and is based upon the book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton. Rounding out the cast with Hemsworth is Michael Shannon (Zod from Man of Steel and lead baddie in The Shape of Water), Michael Pena (Collaterol Beauty, Ant Man and The Martian), Navid Negahban who plays General Dostum – leader of the Northern Alliance fighters and later Vice President of freed Afghanistan, who teamed with Nutsch's group for real and who is, to this day, friends with Nutsch. William Fichtner (Armaggedeon, Batman: The Dark Knight) as Col. John Mulholland and Rob Riggle a comedian and United States Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel who, in a quirk of fate, plays his former commanding officer, Lt Col. Max Bowers. Fichtner and Riggle are the only ones who play officers going by their real names. There really was a Col Bowers and Col Mulholland participating in this extraordinary military operation. And as a side note, to lend further points of solid credibility to the chemistry of the cast, Elsa Pataky, Hemsworth's real life wife plays his REEL "life" wife, Jean Nelson.

I had difficulty trying to find the actual names of the other soldiers who were part of the team. As it turns out they prefer, in classic hero fashion, to retain the anonymity which was at first required on this top secret mission. Mark Nutsch, the inspiration for Michael Nelson only came forward when the movie was green lighted in order to help with the authenticity. These men were not given any recognition at the time for the miraculous feat they performed.

I have a Jewish friend who likes to playfully sum up the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament as: "They tried to kill us, we fought, we won, let’s eat!"

This sentiment pretty well sums up the forthright, pragmatic and confident attitude of the military with which America is blessed. Not looking for praise or parades they simply go in, perform their duty and come home. Not withstanding they "go in" after leaving their stalwart sacrificing wives and children, that they "perform their duty" against sometimes overwhelming odds, or that they might "come home" permanently maimed, severely injured….or in a coffin.

It’s about time these men, who struck the first blow for America subsequent to the cowardly and evil act of terrorism wrought upon our country on September 11, 2001, received some acknowledgment.

I had a friend ask if I was looking forward to this movie. I emphatically exclaimed: "Thor on horseback riding against tanks! What’s NOT to like!!!" And like it I did. Hemsworth and the rest of the cast perform with infectious camaraderie, conveying the depth of trust each of those real soldiers they portrayed had for each other. Filmed in New Mexico the rugged Afghan terrain is convincingly pictured.   The battle scenes are breathtaking. And it is not spoiler, because it is in the trailer, that, indeed, these men wound their way through merciless fire against ridiculous odds side by side with their Afghanistan Northern Alliance allies, like the Light Brigade, on horseback, into ferocious tank and artillary fire. These men boldly and selflessly offered their lives to stop the brutal stranglehold of torture and repression the Taliban and Al Qaeda had against the locals and prevent further attacks on our country. Their push into the merciless enemy's stronghold broke the back of Al Qaeda and had them fleeing to Pakistan.

There have been some criticism against the details of the mission – for example: did they really ride the horses into battle against tanks? Frankly I don’t care. We get far too few movies with the guts and gusto to demonstrate the every day bravery and selfless dedication of our American soldiers to our protection and freedom. It’s about time we returned to the likes of Patton, Green Beret, The Longest Day and The Great Escape – where the matter-of-fact patriotic heroics of our American military is a given and we should be rightly very proud and joyously celebrate their accomplishments.

I am unconcern with any modest cinematic license which might have been taken to enhance the telling of this amazing story.

The core of the history is dead on: They tried to kill us, we fought, we won, let’s eat!!

PS – Assuming the web page is accurate, if you want to find out more about the accuracy of the movie 12 Strong to the actual events they portray check out: How Accurate is 12 Strong?  SHORT TAKE: Almost every bit is detail-accurate.