Starring: Willem Dafoe, Julianne Nicholson, Christopher Heyerdahl
Director: Ericson Core
Running Time: 113 mins
Togo is an American film about the true story of a sled dog who led a team across the harsh Alaskan landscape to retrieve a vital serum to tackle a disease outbreak in his small town.
Disney have a way about them when it comes to this brand of family-friendly melodrama. Togo, much like many films before it, is an impressive blend of enjoyable, exciting cinematic spectacle and often genuinely affecting dramatic gravitas. It’s not quite the legendary tearjerker it wants to be, but it’s not all that far off either.
From Eight Below to Homeward Bound, Bridge To Terabithia and everything in between, Disney’s capacity to tell genuinely powerful and affecting stories in a family-friendly way remains hugely impressive. Of course, it seems like the world’s biggest studio can do anything, but Togo is a reminder that not all their films are fluffy, one-dimensional works.
Based on a true history, the film follows the development of the strong bond between man and dog, as they battle harsh natural conditions across Alaska in the 1920s.
Now, there are times when the film doesn’t quite manage to make that relationship quite as moving as it aims to. Its non-linear narrative structure – switching back and forth between ‘present’ day and Togo’s time as a puppy – is a little clumsier than intended, and occasionally undermines the way the pair’s bond develops over the years.
Of course, the puppy years are both cute and offer some lighter respite from what is often a surprisingly heavy-going depiction of the later years. However, there were times I wished the film had spent a little more time leaving you in suspense as to where the pair’s relationship would go, rather than effectively spelling it out for you by repeatedly switching back to those later years.
Still, it’s a perfectly heartwarming story, and both lead actor Willem Dafoe and Togo are a delight to watch throughout. The film has all the magic of a big Disney spectacle, and from its cutest moments to its most melodramatic, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
The problem, however, is that the film never really hits home on the deeper emotional level it’s aiming for until its latter stages. Again, that’s symptomatic of a narrative structure that isn’t quite right for the story, but it does mean that the film feels just a little overly sentimental throughout.
Saying that, the finale is properly heartrending, building on classic Disney tropes while providing a surprising and powerful conclusion to an engrossing story. Togo isn’t an incredibly moving watch all the way through, but the way it finishes off will certainly put you close to tears.
Overall, I was really rather impressed by Togo. Yet another impressive drama from Disney that blends family-friendly entertainment with powerful emotional depth, the film is a spectacular and thoroughly enjoyable watch all the way through.
With brilliant production values and great performances, it’s captivating and exciting even when it doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head with its emotional impact. But with a moving finale, Togo finishes on a real high, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.