Willem Dafoe and some cute puppies aren’t enough to save this dull, overlong adventure.
Togo is the perfect film for audiences enamored with A Dog’s Purpose but who wish it was more of a historical epic and basically nobody else. It’s a movie to watch with your parents over the holidays when anything else feels too contentious and too exhausting to consider. It’s perfect for falling asleep to. Outside of that, I’m not exactly sure why Disney+ made it.
It tells the story of the famous 1925 serum run to Nome through the lens of one particular sled dog—no, not Balto, but Togo. While Balto has a story of his own, he only ran 55 miles (the final leg) of the journey compared to Togo’s 365 miles. A runt and a rapscallion as a pup, Togo eventually wins the heart of his master Leonhard Seppala (Willem Dafoe) after proving his worth as a sled dog.
The self-seriousness of Togo is, in a word, hilarious. The film tries to demand viewers treat this tale with all the sentimental regard they might Chariots of Fire. Grandiose orchestral arrangements score slow-motion scenes of Togo running through the Alaskan wilderness, the only other sound that of his labored panting, and it’s almost enough to make you burst out laughing.
At a startling and completely unnecessary 114 minutes, every scene of Togo drags. So much of the cinematography is aping the style of blockbuster epics, which its $40 million budget and the small scale of this story doesn’t actually allow it to pull off.
At a startling and completely unnecessary 114 minutes, every scene of Togo drags.
But Willem Dafoe might be the most baffling part of Togo. To see him in this on the heels of The Lighthouse—a role perfect for Dafoe’s intense energy and unique sensibilities—is just bizarre. He has to manage lines like, when talking to his wife of Togo as an unruly pup, “Your cur who rewards your kind nature with anarchy!” Or when he must say with all grave seriousness, “Thank you for thinking of the dogs… not many do.” Dafoe does what he can, but you can’t help but assume that this is the kind of role he takes only so he can afford to tackle something as bizarrely beautiful as The Lighthouse.
Togo also suffers from the same flaw many complained about with the “live action” remake of The Lion King. In relying on live action with real dogs and yet still focusing the story intensely on the dog itself, you lose the expressiveness that could be achieved through animation. Instead, Togo makes do with head tilts and dead-eyed stares from the huskies which just makes for a relatively boring movie.
Togo is far from one of the worst movies to come out this year, it’s just one of the more puzzling ones. It’s as if Disney+ were only releasing it now because they know it’s perfect for throwing on the TV when no one can agree on anything else. The dogs are pleasant enough, Dafoe is good enough, there are several scenes involving a puppy, it’s pretty unoffensive. It’s fine. But all that really means is that you barely need to try at all to choose something better to watch.
Togo will be mushing your way on Decembrrrrr 13th