Togo (2019) Movie Review | Screen Rant
Streaming service Disney+ launched last month, primarily bolstered by Disney's impressive lineup of previously released titles (most of which come from the company's many popular subsidiaries). In addition to streaming their favorite Marvel and Star Wars movies, subscribers also have access to plenty of original content - including new films. One of the first features to hit Disney+ is Togo, an inspirational true story that shines a light on one of history's bravest animals. And, it's one people should check out if they have the time. Togo is an emotional tribute to real-life heroes, as well as a moving story about the affecting bond between a man and his loyal dog.
Willem Dafoe stars in Togo as Leonhard Seppala, a man who spends his days working with sled dogs in Alaska. In 1925, as the town of Nome is struck by an epidemic that leads to several children being hospitalized, Leonhard is called upon to brave the harsh weather conditions to retrieve a serum for the doctors. With his faithful lead dog Togo by his side Leonard heads out to face the elements, becoming one of many different musher teams partaking in a serum run that, if successful, will save Nome. With time limited and Togo's age a big question mark, Leonard and his canines have to rely on every ounce of courage to get the job done.
It goes without saying the most valuable asset Togo has going for it is the relationship between its namesake and Leonhard. The duo's dynamic forms the emotional core of the movie, bolstered immensely by extended flashbacks that flesh out their (at times tumultuous) history with each other prior to the serum run. These sequences are smartly dispersed throughout the film so they can break up the primary serum run thread (preventing Togo from becoming monotonous) and endear viewers to the main characters. The dogs that play Togo at various parts of his life (especially the puppy) are scene-stealers and a delight to watch. Dafoe works well with his furry friends, selling Leonhard's arc as he gets closer with Togo. Dafoe is an excellent choice for the role, as he possesses the range to convincingly dish out tough love to a playful and energetic pup, while also demonstrating Leonhard's more emotional side later on. The moments between Leonhard and Togo are genuinely touching and poignant.
Though Togo is headed straight for a streaming service, it's still feels like a very cinematic experience. Director Ericson Core (who also served as the movie's cinematographer), excels at portraying the brutal conditions Leonhard and his team endured during the serum run. Due to the way the film is shot, audiences are put right in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, where danger lurks at every corner. Many of the set pieces are extremely tense (particularly one where the dogs traverse across ice) and help Togo play as a gripping survival drama. This is a Disney movie, meaning there are parts that will pull at the heartstrings, but Togo is thankfully never too manipulative and sucks the viewer into its story.
While Dafoe and the dogs do an admirable job of carrying Togo on their shoulders, the rest of the cast leaves less of an impression by comparison. The meatiest supporting role is that of Constance Seppala (Julianne Nicholson), Leonhard's wife and one of Togo's earliest supporters, but even she doesn't have all that much to do. Other characters, like George Maynard (Christopher Heyerdahl), Joe Dexter (Michael Gaston), and Jafet Lindeberg (Jamie McShane), barely register and are mainly in the film to populate the town. Obviously, the main focus in Togo is the serum run (for which Leonhard spent much time in isolation), but outside of Leonhard, nobody's all that memorable, which is disappointing.
Overall, Togo is a solid offering for Disney+ and will likely have an easier time finding an audience on streaming than if the Mouse House went with a traditional theatrical release. This seems like the kind of film that would easily get lost amidst the crowd in multiplexes (especially with some of the titles on the horizon), but people - especially dog lovers - may be inclined to check it out from the comfort of home. And regardless of what kind of viewership Togo finds, it makes for a well-intentioned and respectful tribute to obscure heroes, looking past the headlines and highlighting the most valuable members of the serum run.
Togo starts streaming on Disney+ on December 20, 2019. It runs 114 minutes and is rated PG for some peril, thematic elements, and mild language.