Togo 7 points
United States, 2019
Direction: Ericson Core.
Script: Tom Flynn.
Duration: 113 minutes.
Interpreters: Willem Dafoe, Julianne Nicholson, Christopher Heyerdahl, Richard Dormer, Adrien Dorval.
Premiere available on Disney +.
Despite its state-of-the-art digital backgrounds, the heart of Togo is rabidly old school. Disney-branded films with actors and animals of flesh and blood are part of a long tradition that spans the decades, and Ericson Core is the last specimen of a breed that is often dignified and proud, sometimes too cloying. This reconstruction of a true story that occurred in 1925 is part of that first lineage: a feature film designed for the whole family that does not infantilize dangers or pain, but does not hit below the waist either. Willem Dafoe plays Leonhard Seppala, a Norwegian immigrant in Alaska – a sled dog breeder, a man as sparing and tough as he is fair and honest, according to the fictional reconstruction – who, in the face of the explosion of diphtheria cases in the town’s child population, embarks on a journey with ample chance of failure. The mission: to travel hundreds of kilometers of frozen lands, going through fearsome storms, crossing frozen lakes and avoiding the certain possibility of a fall into the void or death from freezing and / or extreme fatigue.
The true facts on which Tom Flynn’s script is based are bathed in several patina of spectacularity and more than one historical simplification, but it is precisely that conjunction of old-fashioned adventure cinema and characters larger than life what he ends up making of Togo an irresistible sample button of the well understood classicism. The protagonist rides on his sled with the Siberian husky Togo leading the team of dogs, although this precise calibration of human-canine knowledge and techniques was not always so perfect. The film shoots the first in a series of lengthy flashbacks. Ten years before, the pichicho in question was a puppy too small to even think about a future role as a draft animal, and disobedience to the orders of the master and his unruly qualities made him a candidate for sacrifice, either literally or under the form of a gift to a neighbor looking for a pet. Only Seppala’s wife, played by the versatile Julianne Nicholson (she has participated in major Hollywood productions and Argentine independent fims), trusts that exceptional characteristics are hidden beneath those fur and restless eyes.
Between the past and the present, also alternating the dangerous journey with the increasingly distressing health situation in the town of Nome, Togo he is building a story that, after all, has no other destiny than to highlight the deep bond that can be established between a human being and an animal. Of course, there is no shortage of adrenaline-filled sequences, such as the race down the slope towards an abyss that seems inexorable or the crossing of an icy sea that creaks like a monster with every meter gained. Willem Dafoe, that institution, doesn’t need to do much to make his character seem credible and endearing –Despite their sullen and stubborn areas–, and his weathered face is ideal to combine that prodigy as superhuman as possible. Far from any ñoñez, the story of Seppala and her dog Togo is as noble as the dog protagonist, always ready to take the lead even if his strength seems about to run out.