The Great War commemorations have created a massive up swell in media and popular interest in the Great War. This very blog exists purely because I felt like I had to do something in my own way to mark the centenary. I wasn’t alone and in one way or another loads of other individuals and groups have done the same thing. Now, as we reach the end of the commemorations I am seeing conversations on social media about what this will mean for the future of the remembrance.
It’s inevitable that things will quieten off after the sounding of the last post on November 11 2018. Of course, interest levels have waxed and waned over the hundred years so how, with media attention about to drop off a cliff, do we ensure interest in the conflict remains? The answer is easy….we need to engage with the next generation. And how do you do that? Yes my dear reader, of course, through a Great War Kids Film. It’s that easy.
My film fayre today is a Great War Film that is aimed at a much younger generation that anything I’m previously reviewed. War films by their very nature have a strongly adult flavour to them. There are a rare few that are aimed at a younger audience, War Horse and Private Peaceful are the two that spring to mind having originally been books for young adults. But none on my list are films that I would think of as acceptable for my four year old, either in terms of the content or her ability to engage with it. But after today, I have finally added a film to her watch list.
‘Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero’ is a 2018 animated Great War Film telling the story of a real life dog who became a national star. The story follows our eponymous canine as he befriends a soldier in training, smuggles himself aboard a boat to France and then sets about becoming a fully signed up member of the team. He warns his comrades when he hears incoming shells and when he smells gas as it rolls across no man’s land. He bites a German spy squarely on the arse, takes a few knocks along the way and eventually makes it back home to a hero’s welcome.
The film stars Helena Bonham Carter as the off screen narrator, providing the exposition as the sister of the befriended soldier and also Gerard Depardieu does a great job playing a solidly stereotypical French guy. Not really pushing the envelope with that one but he does a good job. Logan Lerman rounds out the cast of three main players as the soldier who Stubby takes a shine to. The voice performances are good with nothing out of place but nothing really stands out as special either.
The story is a simple one and there’s not really too much happening other than re-enactments of the events that have been passed down as facts about Stubby’s time at the front. If you read his wiki page or any one of the many online articles about him you can pretty much tick off the things he’s famous for. The film covers these events and wraps it all up in a little story. Not much of a story but enough for the younger audience who are probably just more than happy to be hoping our plucky little canine friend makes it through to the end.
I’ll throw my cards down, I really enjoyed it. It’s a kids’ film pure and simple. There are no baddies, no blood, no gore. Whenever there is a hint of conflict between the characters it’s brushed briskly aside by Stubby saluting or doing something cute and enduring. There is no death, well apart from maybe one bit of death right near the end but even that is only alluded to rather than being overtly rubbed in our faces. The fact there’s a real Sgt Stubby is great as a parent as well because it means I can link the events of the film to the real thing. My daughter now knows, and has an interest in knowing more, about the Great War. And she also knows about Stubby and how he was celebrated in the States. He was immortalised in a half page obituary in the New York Times!
I don’t know how much effort has gone into the accuracy of the Army materiel, uniforms, trenches and the like but I have a feeling that some care has gone into the production of the film. It’s feels respectful and honest. As an American film I was expecting there to be quite a strong sense of patriotism. Especially given the current maddening political situation over there. But there just wasn’t. I expected gung ho American-ness and a bit argy bargy with the French but it was all very cordial as it happens.
The film is shortish coming in at about 80 minutes which is probably about right for the audience. Overall, it’s a nice easy film to stick the kids in front of. Nothing is going to shock them and if you’re lucky their interest in the Great War may spark a little. The story is basically true and that is an interesting thing in itself, how a dog went to war and became a national hero. It’s a perfect gateway into the Great War and I hope that films like this continue to get made. As time passes and interest in the conflict diminishes it’s movies like this that may help to keep the home fires burning.