Togo Parent Guide
A high quality family film with a powerful true story and stunning backdrops.
Parent Movie Review
Togo is based on the true events of the 1925 serum run, also known as the Great Race of Mercy. The town of Nome, Alaska has been hit with a diphtheria outbreak just as a huge winter storm rolls in. The nearest antitoxin serum is located over 600 miles away in Nenana. Leonhard Seppala (Willem Defoe) volunteers to take his sled dog team, led by his 12 year old Husky, Togo, on a quest to get that serum and bring it back.
Do you like dogs that aren’t CGI? Do you like gorgeous mountain vistas? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then I recommend Togo for you. The movie splits its time mainly between Seppala and his teams’ quest for the serum and flashbacks to Togo’s young years as the disobedient runt won over Seppala’s heart and became lead dog of the sled team. This narrative structure allows the film to be heartfelt and personal without ever becoming saccharine. The audience falls in love with Togo’s outsize personality, while also being given an intimate look into Seppala’s motivations and relationships.
In terms of content the story does involve dogs and humans being put in perilous situations. The journey across Alaska is fraught with high winds, freezing temperatures, cliffs, and cracking sea ice. The inside of the hospital with the diphtheria patients, most of them children, is shown to emphasize the dire need the town is in. At one-point Togo gets injured and a small amount of blood is seen on his paw. None of the action is gratuitous or out of place but is in service of the story and setting up the stakes of the situation.
Dafoe’s performance is the centerpiece of this picture, and he executes it flawlessly. Julianne Nicholson’s supporting performance as Seppala’s wife, Constance, is sincere and grounded. The stunning landscapes (many of which are within an hour of my house!) are shot beautifully and are upheld by the subtle but powerful score.
Togo as a high-quality family movie with heart that both children and adults will enjoy.Directed by Ericson Core. Starring Wilem Dafoe, Julianne Nicholson, and Cristopher Heyerdahl. Running time: 113 minutes. Theatrical release December 20, 2019. Updated March 26, 2020
Watch the trailer for Togo
Rating & Content Info
Why is Togo rated PG? Togo is rated PG by the MPAA for some peril, thematic elements and mild language
Violence: Togo hurts his paw and some blood is shown. Perilous circumstances for both humans and dogs.
Sexual Content: A married couple kiss.
Profanity: A couple of mild profanities.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A woman offers a man a whiskey.
Page last updated March 26, 2020
Togo Parents' Guide
Seppala makes a choice to collect the serum, knowing that he is putting himself and his dogs at risk. Why does he decide to do this?
This movie is based on a true story. How similar is it to the actual events?
History vs Hollywood: Togo
Loved this movie? Try these books…
The story of this film is told in The Cruelest Miles and the Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, written by Gay and Laney Salisbury.
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 awe-inspiring landscapes of America’s northernmost state, find a copy of Bob Devine’s Alaska: A Visual Tour of America’s Great Land. Although this film was set in Alaska, it was shot in the Canadian province of Alberta. If you want to see more stunning vistas from the Canadian Rocky Mountains, check out Paul Zizka’s books, The Canadian Rockies: Rediscovered and Summits and Starlight: The Canadian Rockies.
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.
Related home video titles:
The Great Alaskan Race is another film that tells the story of the dangerous journey to bring the diphtheria antitoxin to the children of Nome. Balto tells the story from the perspective of one of the other dogs.