By Hunter Johnson
Most everyone has heard of Balto, the heroic sled-dog who led the 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaska, saving dozens of lives as a result. But most people haven’t heard the full story.
“Togo” tells the real-life tale of the dog who led the eighteenth team of dog sleds across Alaska. It shows that Balto did not actually run the entire serum run, but was only the twentieth and final team. However, Balto still received all the attention in the aftermath.
Director of “Invincible,” Ericson Core, delivers a resounding triumph of a film in “Togo.” Rather than focusing on the final 50 miles covered by Balto’s team, Core shows the 250 miles covered by Togo and his musher, Leonhard Seppala.
In general, dog-centric films are hit-or-miss. They tend to be overly sentimental, spending most of their runtime trying to please dog-lovers rather than focusing on the plot. Often times, they are an embarrassment to cinema, treating viewers as simpletons who just want to see cute animals rather than the critical-thinking audiences that they are capable of being.
Something’s different about “Togo” though. Core directs it as if it’s any other type of film, not being distracted by the standard tropes of dog films. It’s intense to watch, it’s beautifully shot, and it has a story that Core is determined to tell earnestly.
Leading the film’s emotional resonance is Willem Dafoe, playing the legendary musher, Leonhard Seppala. Dafoe has proven time and time again that he is one of the greatest actors out there. Earlier in 2019, he gave one of his most disturbing performances to date in “The Lighthouse.” But he has shown in “Togo” that he has even more capability as an actor than his previous roles suggest.
Dafoe is easily the most engaging aspect of “Togo.” He takes an emotionally hardened character and brings sympathetic depth to him. He’s almost Shakespearian in the way he delivers his lines, but he never feels fake or over-the-top. It’s one of the most heart-wrenching performances of recent months. And because of that performance as well as the inspirational nature of the film, “Togo” is a fantastic kicking off point for Disney Plus original filmmaking.
Disney Plus has turned out to be a massive money-making machine for Disney. In just three months, it is already the 2nd biggest streaming service available, with only Netflix still maintaining the most subscribers. But the growth that Disney Plus has had is incredible, to say the least.
Original programming such as “The Mandalorian” and “Lady and the Tramp” are most definitely a huge reason that Disney Plus is doing so well, but movies like “Togo” are going to be the ones that prove the streaming service is more than just a place for well-known franchises and superheroes. The service is also the new home for well-made original content.
“Togo” is not a cliché Disney film from the 90s. It’s a story with purpose. It’s a thrilling watch, filled with scenes that take the audience’s breath away. One specific scene that takes place on a lake of cracking ice is magnificently tense. The fact that Core not only directed the film, but is also its cinematographer, is a testament to the devotion he had in telling this story exactly as he envisioned it.
“Togo” is an inspiring watch that shows the honest and brutal look into the lives of a musher and his dog, all while still allowing even the hardest-at-heart critics to occasionally let out an “awe” at those adorable pups.