Who is Time magazine’s most heroic animal of all time? If you took Togo (Thursday Morning Coffee 9/19/19) over Balto, pat yourself on the back. While Scotty Allan gets the love in Sled Dog Soldiers and by virtue of The Call of the Wild, the man who put an end to his All Alaska Sweepstakes winning streak by taking the blue ribbon in 1915, 1916, and 1917 is Leonhard Seppala. In 1925, it is Togo and Seppala most responsible for delivering the diptheria serum to save the town of Nome. In this mostly true (History vs Hollywood), direct to Disney+ film, Alaska is, at once, magnificent and terrifying. It is no secret that Disney does animal movies better than anyone, and this one is as harrowing as it is inspirational. I give Togo 4.0 Gavels and it receives a 91% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 96% Audience score.
On January 24, 1925, Seppala returns to Nome to find a deadly outbreak of diptheria. Fairbanks can get the serum to Nenana by rail but it will still be 674 miles away. The town leaders acknowledge that only Seppala and Togo are likely able to successfully complete the journey, but Togo is 12 years old, ancient by sled dog standards. Despite the oncoming storm, Seppala knows he must try, even at the cost of the life of his dog, and maybe his own.
Seppala tells us that those born in Norway are hard, those born in Belgium are soft. By any standard, Seppala, played by Willem Dafoe, is as hard as they come. The flip side, Constance Seppala, acted by Julianne Nicholson, is as comfortable, and sentimental, with the dogs as any “softie” should be. They are a finely matched pair. However, the real star is Diesel who performs admirably as Togo. Like little kids, these animals steal your heart.
A lead dog must have intelligence, stamina, courage, and heart. Togo’s bloodline is still much sought after. Two hundred sixty-four miles in January weather across Alaska is a strong recommendation. One critic notes “when ‘Togo‘ gets going, it goes. The ever-earthy Dafoe forges a believable bond with the well-trained dog, and closing scenes are genuinely moving.” Another proclaims “the sequences involving Togo as a mischievous pup are pure magic.” As amazing as it is to climb 5,000 feet pulling a dog sled with eleven dogs, Seppala actually did it with only six. Togo truly had “the heart of a survivor.”