The Great Alaskan Race Parent Guide
A family film with such a good heart it can be forgiven for its sometimes treacly sentimentality.
Parent Movie Review
Leonhard Seppala (played by Brian Presley) came to Alaska during the 1917 gold rush hoping to make a fortune. Instead he found a land and a people where he could make a new home. Falling in love with the rugged landscape and an Inuit woman (Talliah Agdeppa), Seppala embraces the lore of the land, learns to hunt, and becomes a master musher (commander of a dog sled team).
Still, it is a harsh environment and those who dwell there are no strangers to tragedy. Seppala becomes acquainted with grief himself after a flu epidemic sweeps through Nome in 1918, killing many, especially those in the indigenous population.
Then in 1925 Seppala and his young daughter (Emma Presley) face a similar horror when a diphtheria outbreak threatens their small hamlet, and especially the children living there. Community doctor Curtis Welch (Treat Williams) knows there is an antitoxin that can be used to combat the contagious disease, but his meager supply has passed its expiration date, and the nearest source of more medication is hundreds of miles away.
The local city council (Brad Leland) collaborates with the State Governor (Bruce Davison) via telegraph to figure out a plan for getting the antitoxin to their remote town – which is no small feat because the closest harbour is already frozen over for the winter, train tracks are blocked in snow and there is a blizzard raging. While there is some talk about trying to use a new-fangled airplane to accomplish the task, there is great concern the mechanical contraption may not be capable of making the voyage due to the severe weather. The other alternative is using old-fashioned dog sleds to transport the medicine almost 700 miles. Seppala becomes one of twenty mushers who volunteers to relay the life-saving serum from Nenana to Nome through extreme conditions.
If this tale is starting to sound familiar, it’s no surprise. The true story of the Alaskan serum run is quite famous. It has been put to film before in Balto (1995) and is scheduled to appear again in Togo (2019).This version focuses more on the humans than the canines, although both people and pups come off as the heroes in this miracle marathon.
Parents considering introducing their children to this inspirational piece of history with this movie should be aware it includes some depictions of animal deaths – one where a hunter’s hands and face are seen covered in blood. Human lives are also in peril because of exposure and illness. And characters occasionally smoke, drink and cuss.
Written, directed, edited and starring Brian Presley, The Great Alaskan Race feels a little homegrown and sentimental. Yet it is obviously made with heart – and that may melt some viewers’ inclination toward cold criticism.
Directed by Brian Presley. Starring Brian Presley, Treat Williams, Brad Leland, Henry Thomas, Will Wallace. Running time: 87 minutes. Theatrical release October 25, 2019. Updated April 6, 2020
Watch the trailer for The Great Alaskan Race
The Great Alaskan Race
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Great Alaskan Race rated PG? The Great Alaskan Race is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic material, brief bloody images, some language and smoking.
Violence: Characters (human and animal) are in perilous situations, especially due to extreme weather and deadly disease. Animals are hunted and killed: some blood is shown. A hunter smears blood on his face and hands. Characters die. People mourn the loss of loved ones.
Sexual Content: A married couple kisses and embraces.
Profanity: Mild profanities and terms of deity are heard.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Alcohol is drunk in private and public settings. Characters are seen smoking in a couple of scenes.
Page last updated April 6, 2020
The Great Alaskan Race Parents' Guide
The men that transported the diphtheria antitoxin close to 700 miles knowingly put their lives in danger. Why do you think they volunteered? What causes might you be willing to die for?
Read more about the real 1925 Alaskan Serum Run.
Learn more about theses amazing sled dogs.
Discover how the Iditarod race is related to this story.
Find out more about the 1918 flu epidemic depicted in this movie.
Loved this movie? Try these books…
The story of this lifesaving race is also told in a book written by Gay and Laney Salisbury, entitled The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic.
If you’re fascinated by sled dogs, turn to the books written by American novelist Jack London. The Call of the Wild is an adventure set in the Klondike Gold Rush, and stars a dog named Buck who is dognapped in California and winds up as a sled dog in Alaska. White Fang is set in the same period and tells the story of the domestication of a sled dog, from the dog’s perspective.
If you want a dramatic tale set in the punishing environment of the far north, you will want to savor The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service.
For more awe-inspiring landscapes of America’s northernmost state, find a copy of Bob Devine’s Alaska: A Visual Tour of America’s Great Land.
Most of us are unfamiliar with diphtheria because it’s targeted in standard childhood vaccines. More information about the history and development of vaccines can be found in The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease by Meredith Wadman.