If you’re a dog lover, we’re throwing you a bone! Disney+’s brand new movie Togo is a story that we’re paw-sitive every canine lover is going to adore. I personally have a soft spot for an inspirational dog movie, so when you add a stellar cast (including the likes of Willem Dafoe and Julianne Nicholson), gorgeous scenery, a rescue mission that’ll keep you glued to the edge of your seat, and a whole bunch of sled dogs, you can COUNT ME IN.
Togo is the story of Leonhard Seppala (played by Willem Dafoe) and his wife Constance (played by Julianne Nicholson), a couple living in Nome, Alaska who raise and train sled dogs. Leonhard is a “musher” (AKA a dogsled driver) and Togo is his lead dog. The movie is based on the true events of the Serum Run of 1925, where an outbreak of disease in their remote town led to a dangerous sled dog relay to transport the vaccine across Alaska during the cold winter. While we see much of Leonhard and Togo’s famous journey, Togo also dives deep into their relationship from the time Togo entered the Seppala family’s lives, painting a heartwarming portrait of that special bond dog lovers know so well.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the (human) stars of Togo after a screening of the film, and trust me when I say we all have a LOT to look forward to. Here are a few things to expect when Togo hits Disney+ on December 20.
1. Expect to See Dogs Galore!
Togo is the story of the determination and resilience of some incredible animals, but none more so than the title dog. To cast a believable Togo, the filmmakers really kept it in the family! A dog named Diesel plays the adult Togo in the film, and he is an actual descendant of the real Togo! “That’s probably why he got the job!” joked star Willem Dafoe. Though co-star Julianne Nicholson added with a laugh that Diesel definitely “could bring up some challenges.” Hey, we’re not all perfect! But believe me, Diesel came through and was incredible in this movie.
When it came to working with the whole team of sled dogs, Willem shared that “different dogs had different personalities. Sometimes they’d have to swap them out for various reasons… [The dog trainers] took really good care of these dogs. They love these dogs, and the dogs really responded to them. I mean, I learned a lot just by watching them work with the dogs.” Now, that’s the kind of research we can get behind!
Of course, the sled dogs themselves are pretty adorable, but the cuteness factor goes up several notches when we see flashbacks of Togo as a puppy. Julianne said there were several puppies on set that she got to work with and “It was pretty amazing to have that energy around.”
2. It’s a True Story That Will Make You Look Differently at a Famous Story You Think You May Know
Togo is based on a true story about the heroics of many dogs, but there’s one dog who’s gotten a bit more pop culture cred than the rest. If you ask someone about the true story of the Serum Run of 1925, you’re going to hear the name ‘Balto’ come up A LOT. He was the dog that crossed the final finish line and was immortalized in national newsprint, in film, and with several statues, one of which can still be seen in NYC’s Central Park!
When Julianne spoke about what attracted her to Togo as a project, she enthused, “I loved the story. This is a true story I’d never heard of. I’d seen Balto’s statue in New York countless times when I lived there and would go in the park, so to make a discovery like this felt exciting.” What exactly did she discover about Togo that made him so different from Balto? No spoilers from me! I recommend you fire up Disney+ for that answer.
3. Willem Dafoe Is a Fan of the Real-Life Leonhard Seppala
It’s got to be a little daunting for an actor when they have to portray a real person, but when it came to the real-life Leonhard Seppala, there was no one better suited for the job than Willem Dafoe. I have to admit, when they showed a photo of the real Seppala at the end of the film, my jaw dropped at the resemblance. Willem elaborated, “Seppala… he was very small. I kinda look like him… I’m pretty energetic and pretty athletic, but I thought maybe I’m too old for this, ya’ know? And then I started looking at pictures of him, and seeing how old he was when he did this stuff and I thought, ‘No, no, this is OK. This is good.’” Not just good, Willem Dafoe. GREAT. Take note, Disney+ viewers.
More than just the physical resemblance though, Willem really understood the heart of the character. He shared, “[Seppala]’s kind of an interesting character because… he’s had some disappointment in his life. He’s come [to Alaska] to make his fortune and it turns out to be kind of a dud, at least initially. And then he finds himself becoming a good racer, and then he comes into this situation where he can do something heroic. So, that’s all an interesting arc.”
4. Bring Tissues. You’re Gonna Need Them.
Real talk here. I saw this movie in a room full of people and by the end, there was not one dry eye in the house. People were passing around tissues! But that emotional impact is what made us all love Togo so much, so a word to the wise: Gather some tissues before you start streaming.
But, do the stars of the movie get as emotionally invested as we do? Willem shared that he kept his emotions on camera, saying, “Are we moved when we see it? You’re moved when you’re doing it.”
Julianne, though, had a bit more of an external reaction at a recent screening, sharing, “I was really moved. I cried at the end, and so did my daughter. But yeah, I was really surprised actually… knowing the story… I was prepared for what was coming, but… I thought they handled it so beautifully!”
5. Get Ready to Be Inspired!
Despite a few tears you may shed, at the end of the day, Togo is an inspiring story full of triumph and hope. “So many themes in this are about challenges and what we learn from our failures and our challenges.” Willem told us. It’s a powerful sentiment that’s sure to enchant people of all ages who see this film. He continued, “I think it’ll resonate with people. Not just as a, you know, man and dog [and] woman story, but you know, really… ways to conduct your life.”
So, there you have it! If you’re ready to enjoy a very personal, emotional, and inspirational story that’s chock-full of adorable dogs, you know what to do! Togo is streaming on Disney+ starting December 20th!