An epidemic of diphtheria has hit the remote place of Noum in Alaska, and medicines are found 800 kilometers away. Considering the coming storm, air transport is out of the question, so the citizens turn to Leonard Sepala (Willem Dafoe) to bring medicine on his sled pulled by dogs. Sepala is a very experienced dog trainer, and leading his sled is a twelve-year-old Siberian husky named Togo, whom Sepala trusts immensely. This mission will test their strength, courage and determination.
The plot of the film follows an untold story set in the winter of 1925, which takes us through the inaccessible terrain of Alaska. We follow the exciting, incredible adventure of a man and his faithful dogs, among which stands out Togo, whom Sepala raised since he was a very restless puppy. With a major storm approaching, Sepala is aware that it may be too much of a strain for his aging dog, but he has also doomed the mission if he doesn’t take him along.
Even when I was a kid watching Babe, Animal Farm and other movies where the main characters are animals, I admired how people managed to make those movies. Before the movie Togo, I watched one with a similar theme, The Call of the Wild, in which the authors went to the extreme and presented the dog with special effects – there is not a single shot in which they used a real dog. Although the story as such is not bad for the genre and we have Harrison Ford in the lead role, it is obvious that people are tired of the excessive use of technology in films and The Call of the Wild did poorly at the box office.
The authorial duo of this film, consisting of director Ericson Core and screenwriter Tom Flynn, decided not to follow the line of least resistance and in the main role of this film presents us a flesh and blood dog. I’m not saying that there aren’t scenes where Togo is replaced by special effects, but they are limited to a reasonable level. If you’re a dog lover like me, Togo will warm to you right from the opening scenes, and his portrayal as a lively, restless puppy will delight even the biggest skunks.
The most important segment to watch this film with attention is fulfilled, and three more are added to it – an inspiring true story, a quality lead actor and fantastic cinematography that presents wide shots of the vivid, striking, colorful, but also often deadly Alaskan landscape. During the viewing, I commented several times how amazed I was by the camera work that places Sepala and his dogs in postcard-like landscapes. I especially single out the action scenes during the crossing of the lake, which are so convincing that you will feel as if the ice is cracking somewhere around you.
Although I expected this movie to be a race against time, the script focuses primarily on the central relationship between a man and his dog. We get an insight into the building of their relationship through flashbacks, when we see that Sepala didn’t want to keep Togo (he even gave him away twice), but the dog found ways to prove to him that he has a heroic heart worthy of a pack leader. You’ve probably seen or heard jokes about how a frowning dad adores a dog he didn’t even want in the house at all, and the relationship between Sepala and Togo can be described as such.
In addition to Sepala, his wife Konstanz (Julianne Nicholson) is also important to the story, who is there as unreserved support, and was the first to see the potential in Togo. I believe that the relationship between her and Sepala could have been worked out, but it’s completely understandable that it wasn’t because this is a Disney movie and the emphasis was on other things. Everyone already knows how much I appreciate William Dafoe and he doesn’t have a film that he did sloppily, so that’s the case here as well. His performance is very warm, although at first glance he gives the impression of a strict man – we simply see how much he loves his dogs and how much he cares for them, as well as for the community in which he lives.