In the best sequence of the new Disney Plus movie Togo, Willem Dafoe has sent an abridged version of St. Crispin’s Day speech by William Shakespeare’s Henry V (“We Few, We Few”) to the team of dogs pulling his sled, as they race over the ice while they pull on him. “Run now, my puppies!” Dafoe yells as he finishes the speech. He loves the dogs, the dogs love him and I love Togo.
The joys of Togo, the latest (and best in my opinion) original Disney Plus movie, largely depend on the simple joy of watching Dafoe interact with dogs, as a good half of his dialogue is “Good Dog!” Or “Come on on, puppies! Directed by Ericson Core (cinematographer of The Fast and the Furious, director of the point-break 2015 remake), Togo tells a simple “man and his dog” story that revolves around a real 1925 health crisis. Almost everything Not having the simple pleasure of watching the usually harsh or vicious Willem Dafoe hanging around with a bunch of fluffy dogs.
In 1925, a dog sled relay transported diphtheria antitoxin through Alaska to prevent a commencing eruption in Nome. The squadron, later known as the “Great Race of Mercy”, brought fame to Balto, the leading sleigh on the final leg, and brought him a statue in Central Park and an animated feature film. The dog Togo and his musher Leonhard Seppala (Dafoe), however, covered the longest and most dangerous stage of the race and covered almost twice the distance of another team. Togo serves as a kind of excavation of the story and gives the overshadowed couple the day in the sun.
Dogs on the ice. Disney
The central drama of the film, however, is less about the saving of human lives than Seppalas attachment to his dog. Seppala agrees with the original plan to send only two teams to finish the race for the common good (eventually 20 mushers participated), but at the start of the race Seppala is most concerned about Togo’s life. The back half of the movie focuses almost exclusively on Togo’s health as the tiring run takes its toll. the antitoxin hardly contributes.
This focus is determined by the flashbacks throughout the film that describe Togo’s education. The puppy is initially a problem for Seppala, who tries because of his small size and his rough temperament to give him twice (no !!!) to other families, just so that the puppy escapes (yes !!!) and returns to the Seppala homestead. Seppala does not like the dog, but when he puts Togo in a harness after the dog again tracks and disturbs Seppalas team, everything snaps into place. Togo is a prodigy who pulls sledges – the grumpy Seppala and the lively dog should be a team.
Unlike most recent Disney movies, Togo (as a puppy and as an adult dog) is more of a flesh-and-blood creature than a CGI creation, and the movie is better for it. There’s no need to convince the audience that this dog is real or that Dafoe really hugs his four-legged best friend rather than a lump of foam or empty air. And most importantly, there’s no scary valley to cross. Togo is undoubtedly an incredibly sweet dog. The plot around him feeds directly on the human fascination with dogs, which has spawned a whole genre of YouTube videos of pets that respond to their owners returning from overseas or refusing to leave the beds of their sick owners. This is the emotion that drives stories like Futurama’s everlasting “Jurassic Bark” episode.
Seppala (Dafoe) in the wild. Disney
With just under two hours Togo goes a little farther than it should be, but Dafoe is so charismatic – his Shakespeare recitation could easily be combined with his “Hark” monologue in “The Lighthouse” by Robert Eggers – most of the Movie runtime flies over. Core also has a knack for action and transforms a mostly monotonous trek through the snow into a beautiful tableau. Wide shots capture the dogs as spots moving through a vast and endless white, or as the only moving dots in a grid of black trees turned bird’s-eye view into dark spots.
Simpler techniques – flashbacks rendered in warm colors, while the unfolding race is just icy blue – add to the performance boost of Dafoe, as does a surprisingly stacked side cast, which also includes Julianne Nicholson as Seppalas’s wife Constance. Christopher Heyerdahl, Michael McElhatton, Richard Dormer, Tooth McClarnon, and Nive Nielson fill out the rest of the film as Nome residents and the people who meet Seppala make their journey.
The real joy of Togo, however, is simple: Willem Dafoe plus dog and sometimes Willem Dafoe plus dogs in the plural. He tells them that they are good dogs. (They are.) They lick his face. (So would I.) As they race through ice and snow, they bring a sense of warmth and life to the landscape. It is wonderful.
Togo will debut on December 20 on Disney Plus.