Movie Review: “Togo”
The year is 1925, and a plague is ravaging Nome, Alaska. Nome is a quiet remote town in Alaska that celebrates its local dog-sledding teams. During the winter, travel in and out if the town is nearly impossible due to the extreme winter conditions. During those seasons, it is up to the dog-sledding teams to travel between towns to get things like mail and supplies when necessary. The town also holds annual dog-sledding races to show support for the local teams. It is a remote town—with no neighboring towns anywhere nearby—and it is peaceful. At least it was peaceful before the plague arrived.
Many in the town have become very sick—including many of the town's children—and while a cure for the virus has been discovered, Nome’s remote location has made it difficult to get the cure to the people of the town. If they do not get the cure quickly, many will surely die. Thus, Nome must once again rely on its dog-sledding teams. However, a terrible, deadly storm is on its way, and only one team has a chance of making it through. Leonhard Seppala (Willem Dafoe) and his renowned lead dog Togo have a chance at making the run. Even for the best team around, this storm is deadly and Togo is now too old for long runs like this—even without considering the storm—but Seppala knows that he does not stand a chance without his lead dog. There is a very real possibility that they do not make it back alive, but they are the only hope for many in the town of Nome, Alaska.
The Pros & Cons
Leonhard & Togo (+8pts)
The Other Dogs (-1pts)
The Mission (+5pts)
The Ice (-1pts)
Intense & Heartwarming (+8pts)
Pro: Leonhard & Togo (+8pts)
In a dog movie such as this one, the bond between the main character and their dog is extremely important. In Togo, the bond between Leonhard Seppala and Togo was really strong. A lot of that was due to the writing, but Willem Dafoe certainly deserves plenty of credit as well. The writing worked so well, because we got to see the relationship between these two characters grow over time.
We saw Togo as a puppy—causing all sorts of havoc—and we saw Seppala's annoyed view of the dog at that stage. Then, through the course of the story, we saw flashbacks that showed how this relationship grew over the years. It went a long way in making us appreciate and connect with the bond between Seppala and Togo, and it had me totally invested in their relationship in the present day storyline. Then, on top of the great writing, Willem Dafoe did what Willem Dafoe does, as he delivered a great performance that made it so easy to put myself in his character's mindset. For a lot of the movie, this guy was acting alongside dogs, but he played his part such that I always knew what the character was feeling, and I never thought the scenes felt lacking for having so few human characters. I really felt the connection between this character and his dog, and while Willem Dafoe did a great job with every aspect of this dramatic performance, he most importantly made it really easy to believe the emotional relationship between his character and Togo.
Con: The Other Dogs (-1pts)
I understand Togo getting a lot of credit for what Seppala's team went through on this mission, but I found it a little odd that the rest of the dogs on the team got so little attention. Sure, Togo and Seppala went through hell, but there were another eight dogs that were right there with them. Togo was the lead, and the filmmakers made a point to show the audience that the mission simply could not be done without Togo, but where was the love for the other eight dogs? Again, I get that the movie was about Togo, and I get that Togo was the lead dog here. While there were a few comments from Seppala to the other dogs on the team, I thought they were deserving of more attention than they got.
Pro: The Mission (+5pts)
This was a dog movie, so it would be safe to expect a heartfelt drama about a person and their dog. However, this was also a story with a life-or-death mission and incredibly high stakes. Seppala loved Togo and the other dogs on his team, but due to what was at stake, I understood why he was willing to risk his life and the lives of those dogs. That was largely due to how effectively the filmmakers setup this mission.
The filmmakers effectively showed what was at stake—the lives of the many sick people in town, many of whom were children. The filmmakers also effectively setup the risk of the incoming storm by showing Togo's change in behavior as the storm drew closer, and by explaining that only one dog-sledding team had a chance to complete the mission—even though all dog-sledding teams were trained to endure some form of extreme conditions. It was a heartfelt dog story, sure, but it was not just about dogs bonding with humans. The mission gave this story purpose, and it was a mission that I was totally invested in seeing fulfilled.
Con: The Ice (-1pts)
This movie was based on a true story, and I am all for exaggerating some aspects of stories like when bringing them to the screen, but things should not be obviously exaggerated. The ice scene was certainly an intense scene, so I did not think this was a real problem, but this scene definitely felt over-dramatized. The way everything happened on-screen made unbelievable, to the point where momentarily took me out of the movie. The scene was still intense and the movie was able to pull me right back into things, but it was worth noting in this review because I did not have many real issues with the movie.
Pro: Intense & Heartwarming (+8pts)
Throughout this movie, the filmmakers balanced two timelines. The first was the present day timeline—showing Leonhard and Togo on their deadly mission. The second storyline showed flashbacks as Leonhard reflected on Togo’s entire life—starting with Togo as a puppy. I do not normally like when movies repeatedly cut to flashbacks, but I thought it worked for this story.
The present day timeline was filled with intensity. There were intense action sequences featuring Leonhard and Togo battling the environment, but there were also plenty of intense emotional scenes—as Leonhard faced the very real possibility of working his beloved dog to his death. The present day stuff was all really intense, so the flashbacks allowed the viewer to cool down emotionally. They were mostly light-hearted and heartwarming scenes that showed Leonhard‘s growing bond with Togo. The two timelines complemented each other really well, and they created an emotional roller-coaster that I really enjoyed.
Con: Constance (-1pts)
I did not dislike Constance (Julianne Nicholson), but I did not think she needed to get as much focus as she did. All the scenes between her and Leonhard were great—both in the flashbacks and in present day. Nonetheless, the present day scenes of her while Leonhard was gone felt like a waste of screen time. This had very little impact on my overall enjoyment of the movie, but cutting some of her scenes would have made the story feel a little leaner.
Grade: A- (93pts)
I liked this movie a lot and I honestly struggled to find problems with it. One problem was that I felt that the other dogs—other than Togo—on Seppala’s team got too little credit. Another problem was that the ice scene felt over-dramatized. My last problem was that some of Constance’s present day scenes could have and probably should have been cut. However, I cannot put enough emphasis on the fact that these were all extremely minor issues.
This was a story about a man and his dog. We got to see their bond grow, and we got to see them risking their lives to save others, as well as their each other. It was an intense, emotional story, and it had a ton of heartwarming moments as well. The mission these two were on had stakes that were easy to get behind, and it had danger that put me on the edge of my seat for much of the movie’s duration. It was an emotional roller-coaster that I had a really great time watching. If you have Disney+ or know someone who does, then I highly recommend giving this movie a shot.