Pros: Bringing justice to the real heroes of the 1925 race; a touching story of friendship between a man and a dog; the film adheres to historical facts; magnificent landscapes Cons: Too much CG in some scenes; the unexplained disappearance of one of the Seppala Togo family members
Directed by Erickson Core
Starring Diesel (Togo), Willem Dafoe (Leonard Seppala), Julianne Nicholson (Constance Seppala), Christopher Heyerdahl (Mayor George Maynard), Richard Dormer (Dr. Curtis Welsh), etc.
Walt Disney Studios, Disney+
Year of release 2019
No, Gunnar Kaasen and Balto also took part in delivering anti-diphtheria serum to the sick children of Nome. Actually, Kaasen was the last participant in the relay and it was he who handed over the box of medicine to Dr. Welsh. But Kaasen and Balto covered only 80 km, while Leonard Seppala and Togo covered 146 km, in both directions and along the most difficult section, including crossing the frozen Norton Sound and climbing an almost vertical mountain slope. But although everyone in Alaska knew perfectly well who should be thanked for saving the Nome children, all the glory, through the fault of a careless journalist, went to Kaasen and Balto. Moreover, Balto, whose monument would later be erected in Central Park in New York, ended up on the front pages of newspapers by accident. The lead dog of Kaasen’s sled was named Fox, and the reporter, fearing that readers would think that the sleigh was harnessed by a real fox, asked the name of the second dog, which was Balto.
However, we are getting ahead of ourselves; all these moments will be shown in the film, which is distinguished by amazing attention to historical details. Everything, even the craziest, most cinematic moments that you will see in the film, happened in reality. And Togo’s jump, escaping from his new owners, through the glass, and pulling the sled off the ice floe, and braking on a steep slope, and double crossing over the cracking ice of Norton Sound, and wandering in the snowy darkness… Leonard Seppala and Togo went through all this together . And the words that Willem Dafoe’s character says at the end of the film were actually spoken by Leonard Seppala, only not before Togo’s death, but before his own death in 1967.
The story of the Great Race of Mercy of 1925 and the participation of Leonard Seppala and Togo in it is interspersed with stories from the dog’s childhood, when the small and sickly puppy was groomed by Constance Seppala. And here, despite all the cinematography and even some sweetness, everything is also pure truth. Seppala did not believe in the small and impudent dog, but he proved his worth and his love to the driver. By the way, the wheeled sled shown is also true; Seppala was one of the first in Alaska to use it when training dogs in the summer.
And although Togo has its share of scenes with heavy, sometimes even excessive CGI, the same ice crossing and all the scenes with bad weather, in the episodes involving dogs, real dogs were filmed without any further processing. Nothing to do with the recent Lady and the Tramp. And you know, the dog actors played much better than the virtual animals, especially several puppies who portrayed young Togo.
Unlike The Irishman, Togo did not artificially rejuvenate Willem Dafoe for scenes that took place 12 years before the Great Race. But here we should rather thank the specific appearance of the actor, who has looked the same for the last 30 years.
Togo director Erickson Core (Invincible, Point Break) is first and foremost an excellent cinematographer, and he played the same role in this film. It is his work with the frame that we owe to the magnificent northern landscapes in Togo.
Despite all the historical accuracy in the picture, there is one moment that is difficult to explain. The scriptwriters threw out one very important person for them from the lives of Leonard and Constance Seppala… their daughter Sigrid, who was 8 years old at the time of the diphtheria outbreak and who had every chance of getting sick. Probably, this decision of the scriptwriters is due to the emphasis on the relationship between people and the dog, which in many ways replaces their child, but… this is not fair to Seppala’s real daughter.
Nearly 100 years ago, the Great Race of Mercy, which received extensive press coverage throughout the United States, became an important factor in raising public awareness of then-advanced treatments and contributing to an increase in vaccination rates. I don’t really believe that Togo will help fight anti-vaccine hysteria, but if watching the film helps convince at least a few hundred people, that will be good.
Togo is a good family film to watch during the New Year holidays, an excellent addition to the collection of the Disney+ service. There is something in it from the works of Jack London, especially since the time of the film and the stories about gold miners is separated by no more than 10-15 years. But, of course, the main thing here is a magnificent, loyal and reliable dog, who has finally received his share of fame.
PS In 1932, Leonard Seppala managed to take part in the Olympic Games and earned a silver medal.
A film that restores historical justice to Leonard Seppala and the dog Togo