'Togo' casts light on forgotten hero

Walt Disney Studios Willem Dafoe and Diesel the dog star in the film “Togo,” streaming on Disney+.

The other morning, I awoke to the sound of a haunting melody coming out of my living room that drew my attention.

I walked out and I saw Willem Dafoe on the screen, with tears in his eyes, as he talked to his dog, Togo, the bravest animal who ever lived.

My roommate told me I needed to watch the film for myself.

I knew without any context, I had to see this movie just based on the soundtrack, majesty of the landscape and the connection between Dafoe and Togo just from that short scene.

The movie is “Togo,” which can be found right now on Disney+ and it is a truly glorious representation of the lengths people and animals will go when life itself is at stake.

Togo is the real-life hero of the 1925 serum run to Nome which saved more than 1,000 lives after a diptheria outbreak in the remote Alaskan town. This film does an incredible job at righting a wrong and showing Togo’s story after nearly a century of anonymity as Balto earned all the praise.

In Nome, diptheria has broken out and since the town is so remote – it still is – the only way to get medicine from a town nearly 700 miles away through the blizzard of the century is by dogsled. It would have been about the same amount of distance to go to Russia, that’s how isolated Nome is.

The townsfolk try to think of other ways to get the serum there, but an airplane can’t make it and any other way would take too long. Only Leonhard Seppala (Dafoe) can make it that distance, and he will only make the trek with Togo – his 12-year-old lead dog.

Eventually, the state comes to their senses and has a relay organized, but only days after Seppala has embarked on his own into a blistery cold snowstorm with just a sled and his dogs.

Disney has made plenty of live action films about underdogs, but this one might be its greatest.

This one tells a simple tale that while not perfect, it shows the true connection between a man and his best friend. Togo is portrayed by a dog named Diesel, who embodies his 48-pound ancestor.

There are many moments in this film where it seems Togo is given an impossible task, but the dog perseveres. He always has. From being a runt of a litter to even being given away twice by Seppala because of how unruly he was as a puppy, he continued to fight.

Seppala eventually finds out that Togo is not just a work dog, but a creature that has no limits and will do whatever it takes to do what needs to be done.

It is hard to think of Disney, it of huge billion dollar franchises and behemoth amusement parks, would be willing to film on location in Alberta, Canada, and tell this tale with a veteran actor like Dafoe. After all, Star Wars and Marvel movie box office numbers can fund entire countries so why do a film about an almost 100-year-old event that people already thought they knew about, just for its streaming service?

Because I guess even Disney knew Togo couldn’t go missing from the annals of history. While Seppala and the townsfolk knew Togo – who covered 270 miles with his team – was a hero, the rest of the world pegged Balto for it, though he only finished the last 50 miles.

It is a great story that I am glad to have learned about, but I am even more happy to see a project like this – even with its sappy dialogue at times – get saved because of the relationship between Seppala, his wife Constance (Julianne Nicholson) and a hero named Togo.

Rating: PG for some peril, thematic elements and mild language.

My score: 89/100

Jordan Bishop is the assistant news editor for the Stillwater News Press and can be reached at jbishop@stwnewspress.com.

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