When Republican state Rep. Joe Wilkinson dropped his re-election bid last month, he said his retirement plans included working on an animated movie about a heroic World War I military dog named Sergeant Stubby.

Sergeant Stubby in a 1923 photo published by Wikipedia.
Sergeant Stubby in a 1923 photo published by Wikipedia.

Wilkinson is president of Fun Academy Motion Pictures, the film company making “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero,” he said in a recent interview. And Fun Academy’s parent company, Ireland-based military documentary maker Labyrinth Media, will open a new office in Buckhead as the film’s “command center,” said Labyrinth spokesperson Jordan Beck.

“Growing up, who didn’t want to be Walt Disney?” said Wilkinson, adding that the work matches his love of military history and of the adoption of homeless dogs. (He successfully led a legislative effort this year to name the “adoptable dog” as Georgia’s state dog.)

According to the “Sgt. Stubby” website, the film will be directed by Dan St. Pierre, an animator on such Disney films as “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid,” and scored by Patrick Doyle of “Thor” and “Cinderella.”

“If you Google ‘Sergeant Stubby,’ you’re going to be amazed,” said Wilkinson.

Stubby was a stray adopted by soldiers training at Yale University during World War I and was smuggled onto the front lines.

“He caught a German spy. He, because of his great sense of smell, could sense gas attacks ahead of time,” said Wilkinson. The dog also reputedly won over skeptical commanding officers because “they had taught him how to salute.”

“This is all true. It’s really neat,” Wilkinson said.

Bedecked with medals, Stubby became a nationally known mascot of the war effort. “When Stubby died in 1926, he was stuffed and put into the Smithsonian,” Wilkinson said. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History website features a page about its exhibit of the stuffed war dog.

Wilkinson said he met Labyrinth executives through his work with the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force near Savannah.

“I’m an amateur military historian,” said Wilkinson, adding that he has helped several World War II veterans edit their memoirs.

Labyrinth’s films include the World War II series “The American Road to Victory” that aired on PBS. Wilkinson said he did some marketing and distribution work for Labyrinth, then became involved in their Sergeant Stubby project, an animated film.

State Rep. Joe Wilkinson
State Rep. Joe Wilkinson

Wilkinson said he was made president of Fun Academy Motion Pictures, a division of Labyrinth created to make the Sergeant Stubby movie. “They had the talent” on the creative side, Wilkinson said. “Labyrinth was saying they needed someone who could basically coordinate, lead meetings and manage this project. It fits my skill set. I couldn’t tell you much about [film] production, but I know how to manage. It’s something I just said I’d love to do.”

Wilkinson is a retired Coca-Cola executive and held commands in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

He said “Sgt. Stubby” is still in the financing stage. While various crew members may work in other cities and countries, the production will be coordinated by Wilkinson in Atlanta, Beck said.

“We would have loved to do [the entire film] in Georgia, of course,” said Wilkinson. But Fun Academy will open an Atlanta office on Northside Parkway near North Atlanta High School. Beck said the office will serve “Sgt. Stubby” for now and possibly other Labyrinth productions in the future.

“We are looking forward to working with [Wilkinson] as we develop Fun Academy projects in Georgia, utilizing the growing infrastructure and talent pool offered here to create educational and entertaining stories with an international appeal,” Beck said.

The producers are hoping “Sgt. Stubby” will get a distribution deal and be released in 2018, according to the film’s website. Wilkinson said it will be worth the wait.

“It’s very much like [Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film] ‘War Horse,’ but not as intense and dark,” he said.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.