Do we have enough dog sled movies? I’d be willing to say there’s a lot of “yes-es” out there from the audience. But the thing is, all of them in some form or another hearken back to the real events pertaining to the Alaskan serum run of 1925, immortalized in cartoon (and Phil Collins) form in the mid-'90s with Balto. Now we're getting the real deal, with thespian Willem Dafoe nonetheless, from Disney.
Dafoe has that natural commanding presence that’s easy to adjust to: if he can tell hitmen and vampires what to do, he can certainly rule of over the roost of some sled dogs. He also bears a passing resemblance to the real-life figure his character was based on: Leonhard Seppala.
If you don’t know the story by now, you can probably imagine and play it out in your head. People need medicine, there’s a huge storm coming, and Dafoe and his team (comprised of cute but tenacious dogs) need to deliver it alongside of several other relay runners. You get your “the storm’s a’comin’” committee scene, the whole nine yards. We’re shown images of sick kids much to the disgust of Dafoe’s character to soften us up. There’s no turning back now!
Against the odds, like Lady and the Tramp (2019) before it, this Disney+ original movie manages to inject some heart and soul into the production. Togo, the titular dog, is considered unfit for duty at first (as well as a general menace to society) and Seppala is remiss to even send him on the quest. There’s a certain magic to animal-based films that I really have a soft spot for, and you can tell Dafoe had a ball here amid his occasional brooding.
Other than Dafoe and the dogs there isn’t much here for everyone else to do, although Julianne Nicholson gets a few quick-witted licks in as Leonhard’s wife Constance. It makes sense given that the meat of the film is spent on “the big run,” but it would have been nice if the script gave the limited cast more opportunities to shine, or if we had at least one more spirited performance. At the very least, Togo isn’t afraid to linger on the aftermath of the run and the lasting pain it caused to Seppala.
Don’t expect much from Togo that you haven’t seen before. In fact, if you aren’t a family man (or woman) don’t expect much at all. But for the rest of us, you can spend a weekend enjoying Dafoe scream at CGI gale-force winds and witness locales mostly worthy of a $40 million budget.