If you would have told me in May that I would cry even more than I did in Avengers Endgame in another movie this year, I would have called you crazy. And it does feel surreal when you consider the 10 years I spent with those superheroes. But even forgetting the fact that this is a true story, there is something so genuine about the bond between Seppala and Togo that it makes the movie emotionally engaging almost instantly. I’ve seen quite a few movies this year that have tugged my heartstrings, but none have invested me emotionally quite like this.
We see two characters that are just extremely honest. A dog that doesn’t want to be caged, trying everything to become a part of a sled team. Not once does he try to please his master in any way and is just a nuisance because of who he is. Seppala, a disciplined man, is annoyed by this rash behavior and sees a dog that cannot be tamed. It’s nothing personal but he sees him as a hindrance to his establishment, something he has worked very hard for and tries to get rid of him. But both soon realize they would make an excellent team despite their difference in personalities, and this is what makes for an amazing connection. It’s believable because their bond seems practical and purposeful, and this makes the rest of their story exceptional.
Their journey in the face of adversity is truly spectacular. The movie is true to the real events and doesn’t give in to being cheesy or overly dramatic for even a second. The dialogue feels period-specific, the action and stunt sequences with dogs are well crafted with just the right amount of CGI and the performances by the entire cast (particularly Willem Defoe) are fantastic. The movie takes its time in building the relationship between Togo and Seppala and jumps back and forth between the present and the past constantly reminding us why this journey is special.
The movie also never attempts to cater to just one type of audience. It’s not overboard on how cute dogs are, how selfless/noble the mission was and doesn’t overexplain intricacies in the plot. It’s perfect for the entire family because regardless of your age, anyone can enjoy a relationship like this. It’s this very focus and self-awareness that makes the movie incredible.
Ironically, this might be the most uplifting movie I’ve seen all year but also one that has emotionally affected me the most. In a year with so many movies leaving me anxious, disturbed and somewhat depressed, Togo tells an emotionally powerful and uplifting story about what kindness, love and being selfless can achieve. It almost feels like a delightful light at the end of the almost grim tunnel of 2019 with movies like Joker, Parasite, The Lighthouse, Marriage Story, The Irishman leading discussions. Yes, there have been other movies with positive morals this year, but none feel as focused or powerful as this one. And this makes me hopeful for Disney. A powerhouse such as themselves should be taking greater risks and this is exactly what we need to see more of. Maybe they’ll forget about those mediocre billion-dollar grossing remakes and give these movies the treatment they deserve.
Read more about the true story of Togo here.