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 outbreak.
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 town. If they do not get the cure quickly, many of those who are sick will not survive. 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. However, 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 for many in town Seppala and Togo are their only hope.
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.
We see Togo as a puppy—causing all sorts of havoc—and we see Seppala's view of the dog at this stage. Then, through the course of the story, we see flashbacks that show 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 and 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 is acting alongside dogs, but he played this part so flawlessly 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 truly fantastic job with the entirety 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)
This is an extremely minor issue, and is honestly more of a comment than anything else. 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 a bit more attention than what they got.
Pro: The Mission (+5pts)
This was a dog movie, where you 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 is willing to risk the lives of those dogs, in addition to risking his own life. 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.
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, which is why I did not think this was a very big problem for the movie, but this scene definitely felt like it was over-dramatized. The way everything happened on-screen just made it feel like there was no way it happened like that in real-life, and that realization momentarily took me out of the movie. Fortunately, the scene was still intense and the movie was able to pull me right back into it before long.
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 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 straight into 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 created an intense and heartwarming emotional roller-coaster that I really enjoyed.
Con: Constance (-1pts)
I did not dislike the character, 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. However, the present day scenes of her while Leonhard was gone felt like a waste of screen time. Ultimately, this had very little impact on my enjoyment of the movie, but cutting some of her scenes would have made for a bit more refined of a story.
Grade: A- (93pts)
I liked this movie a lot and honestly struggled to find problems with it. One problem was that I felt that the other dogs 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 seemed like they could 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 a dog. We got to see their bond grow, and got to see them risking their lives to save others. It was an intense, emotional story, but it had a ton of heartwarming moments as well. Then there was the mission these two were on, which had stakes that were easy to get behind, and danger that set 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+, then I highly recommend giving this one a shot, and if you do not have Disney+, then I suggest trying to arrange a movie night with someone who does.