Togo – Movie Review

Some movies are made for certain demographics, and anyone who isn’t in that demographic might as well not bother to watch them. This is not always a bad thing, but sometimes it limits the widespread power a movie can have. For example, the new Disney Plus film Togo is made exclusively for dog lovers. Yes, people who don’t work for the ASPCA can enjoy this movie too, but Disney has smartly zeroed in on those people who have a dog or who understand the reckless and lovable qualities they carry. However, once the movie reveals quite early on that it is pandering to that audience, the latter half of the movie suffers due to how predictable and cheesy it becomes.

Have you seen the movie Balto? The plot of Togo is literally the same but a different dog is headlined. For those who haven’t seen the Disney animated movie, this live action retelling of sorts centers around a town in Alaska that finds themselves trapped when a large snowstorm hits during an outbreak of diphtheria. In order to save the town’s children from succumbing to the illness, Leonhard Seppala (Willem Dafoe) and his lead sled dog Togo must travel hundreds of miles in horrid conditions to pick up the medicine and bring it back to the town. This is undeniably an inspiring and insane true story, and, for the most part, it makes for an interesting film adaptation.

The movie is at its best in the first half, when Seppala is travelling out with Togo to retrieve the serum and the background of Togo’s upbringing is woven through it. In the first thirty minutes, the story feels like a personal tale that will detail how humanity and animal can overcome impossible situations. The structure is perfect for the story, with each present event being explained by the events that occur in the past. All of the scenes showing Togo’s reckless nature are fun enough, although it still could’ve used more emotional attachment from a human perspective. 

Where the film truly impressed me was its sledding sequences, even if the events portrayed were a bit far-fetched. For a movie released straight to a streaming service, it has surprisingly great production value on these scenes. I couldn’t tell throughout the movie whether these sequences were practical or computer generated, and that is always a sign that the production team is doing their job correctly. To be quite honest, most other scenes are nowhere near as interesting because of the fast-paced nature of the sledding scenes.

While Togo starts off as an interesting and original true story, as it gets further and further in it becomes easy to tell this is just another Disney product. Countless scenes have “Disney” stamped all over them in execution, and this only helps the movie feel more like another cheap studio movie instead of a compelling narrative. By the time the final third arrives, every frame of this film is drenched in cheese, and I found myself groaning during most scenes. The writer sacrifices genuine emotion for the type of artificial feelings that make up the soulless Disney live action remakes. There is one sequence in particular near the end that is only put in there to make dog people cry, and while it will work for that demographic, everyone else who has seen any PG-rated animal movie will recognize the emotional manipulation.

To me, it would’ve helped the movie if they had added one more human emotional pull to make the stakes that much more. The most viewers are given regarding attachment for those that are ill is brief glimpses of them through a window, which isn’t near enough to create adequate stakes for this adventure. In the actual story, Seppala’s daughter is one of the children affected by this disease, and I believe the story could have had much more weight were she included. Instead, the filmmakers rely solely on Togo to carry the emotional weight, and while he is the title of the movie, he doesn’t make the moments near the end feel earned.

In the end, if one goes into Togo expecting a typical and forgettable Disney animal movie, then they will receive that and then some. I expected the same from this film at first, but the first half convinced me there was something more here, which made the second half exponentially more disappointing. Togo is entertaining to watch and the pacing never makes it boring or slow, but I wanted it to be far more memorable and unique.

I give Togo a C+.

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