TOGO is a beautiful and refreshing journey into the untold true story of a pack of sled dogs on a literal life-or-death adventure in Alaska in 1925. The Disney+ exclusive feature is beautifully shot and full of heart with more riding on it than you might expect.
Starring Willem Dafoe and Julianne Nicholson as modest husband and wife power couple plus an excitable cast of sled dogs, TOGO is a promising outing for the still-new Disney+ streaming service as it continues to make its mark on the cultural zeitgeist. While THE MANDALORIAN and THE IMAGINEERING STORY series have been A+ standouts, other original content hasn’t quite hit it out of the park. NOELLE, for instance, set a worrying tone that perhaps all subsequent films might have a similar made-for-TV vibe but thankfully that’s not the charted course here.
The supporting cast includes Christopher Heyerdahl (George Maynard), Richard Dormer (Dr. Curtis Welch), Michael Greyeyes (Amituck), Michael McElhatton (Jafet Lindberg), and Michael Gaston (Joe Dexter) in this daring adventure that sets our hero and his dogs out into a dangerous storm to retrieve an urgently needed antitoxin serum following an outbreak of diphtheria in Nome, Alaska. If this is sounding less “untold” than you seem to remember, that’s because the tale of a dog name “Balto” is actually the result of series of events that lead to the wrong sledding team getting the bulk of the credit for this harrowing life-saving mission.
At its core, we find the expected: a tale of a man and his dog setting out for the unreachable and striving to achieve it. What’s of note, however, is that everything unfolds via back and forth flashbacks. We find a complicated relationship that starts with a precocious tenacious pup and a champion dogsled trainer who wants nothing to do with him.
Truthfully, it all starts with a deceivingly slow burn as it jumps right into the heart of the conflict right at the beginning before we even know or care about any of the characters. If the promise of adorable puppers hadn’t been a carrot I knew was dangling, it would have quickly escalated to a change-the-channel situation. But as the the story mushes on (sorry, couldn’t help the pun) it unfolds the narrative, interweaving action with strong character growth.
The scenes are stunning, the locations incredible, and the CG surprisingly good. As a Disney film, though, it couldn’t quite shake a trademark reputation for everything being just slightly too clean and perfect; a little too perfectly tailored to be realistic. Still, it all comes together thanks to another Disney trademark: heart. By the end, you will be left with a lump in your throat if not tears on your cheeks.
TOGO reminds me a lot of movies in the 1990s that weren’t in a hurry to tell their story yet also still ambitious in scope. Focus is instead put on relationships rather than quick cuts to cater to an increasingly binge-ready audience and this all comes through thanks to the direction of Ericson Core and the writing of Tom Flynn. It’s nice to see filmmakers still take an approach to build interesting characters and yet find ways to keep more antsy viewers interested. The journey is worth the effort and it alone is worth the $6.99 subscription for the month.
See it for Yourself
TOGO launches on the Disney+ streaming service Friday, December 20, 2020.