In Walt Disney’s version of the story of the Great Race of Mercy, the sled dog Togo guides a brave musher Leonard Seppala across hundreds of miles of Alaskan ice to bring diptheria serum to his hometown in the midst of an epidemic.
This is not the first film about the 1925 diptheria outbreak that led 20 mushers and their packs of sled dogs to transport more than three-hundred units of the serum 674 miles in blizzard-like conditions. Where Balto gives credit to the lead dog of the final stretch (fifty-five miles), Togo tells the story of Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog who traveled 170 miles away from Nome to pick up the serum and return it back toward Nome.
In a world where technological advantages like cars and airplanes were already relied upon for convenience and more, an “old school” method of transportation saved the day. Dramatically told by director Ericson Core (Invincible), the film centers on the relationship between Seppala and Togo, against a backdrop of CGI storms and stunning Alaskan scenery (in reality, Canada). This version also gives plenty of credit to Seppala’s wife, Constance (Julianne Nicholson), who proves to be as spunky, wise, and hardy as any frontier person could expect to be.
Dafoe has long been regarded as a stellar actor, with multiple Academy Award nominations, and this central acting role allows him to show off both his softer and tougher sides. There’s certainly a solid script here with some witty moments, but the depiction of the relationship between Seppala and Togo is visually compelling as well. Here, we see how the musher and his owner weren’t always best of friends but grew in relationship, thanks to several flashbacks, which make the end result here – a successful tour – even more powerful.
Thanks to the direction and editing, Togo’s “troublemaker” personality, his dogged (!) desire to lead the team and partner with Seppala shines through. In the end, that’s what proves to be incredibly endearing about the film – it shows that ultimately our lives are all about the relationships we explore and grow through, together.
The Dove Take:
A nature-based film, one without a personified villain, from Disney proves to be fun for the whole family, and wins a Dove Approval for Ages 12+.