Last year, 2018, was noted by the Chinese calendar’s zodiac as being the Year of the Dog, but this year, 2019, seems to be the Year of the Sled Dog, as film after film featuring heroic sled dogs is released to movie theaters and home streaming services. There are two movies about the great Serum Run to Nome during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic, one focusing on the champion musher Leonhard Seppala, and the other on his favorite lead dog, Togo. One is an independent production, the other is from the powerhouse film company Disney Studios, but both are absorbing stories, beautifully filmed. Another champion musher, the sprint racing legend George Attla, is the subject of a new PBS documentary, and one of the greatest dog stories of all time is brought to life by a great film legend, Harrison Ford. Pass the popcorn!
~ ~ ~ THE GREAT ALASKAN RACE ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
From the official website for The Great Alaskan Race: “After overcoming personal tragedy, widowed father and champion musher Leonhard ‘Sepp’ Seppala steps up in the midst of a diphtheria outbreak in Nome, Alaska to deliver the anti-toxin to the hospital. With his own child’s life on the line, Sepp battles the impossible, accompanied by his pack of sled dogs.”
Rex Reed in the Observer: “Bruce Davison is the nervous, embattled governor who approves of the race despite growing fear and criticism, and the skeptical antagonist is Henry Thomas (yes, the child from E. T., all grown up and bearded now). Director Presley is very good as Sepp—the strong, virile and indestructible hero. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s the dogs who steal the picture.” And “The unfailing spirit of survival is captured along with the excellent period costumes, sets and even makeup (the frostbites look too real for words) that are rare for an independent film with a limited budget. Not a perfect film, but breathtaking enough to linger in the memory.”
Frank Scheck for the Hollywood Reporter: “You’d think that the true story of a legendary dog run across Alaska’s frozen tundra nearly 100 years ago to get lifesaving medicine to diphtheria victims would make for compelling drama. Unfortunately, actor tyro director/screenwriter Brian Presley lacks the filmmaking chops to make the tale come alive in his feature debut. Although earnest to a fault and certainly fulfilling its goal of being family-friendly entertainment, The Great Alaskan Race ultimately proves less exciting and not nearly as adorable as Balto, the 1995 animated film inspired by the same events.”
~ ~ ~ TOGO ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Walt Disney Studios: An Original Movie starring Willem Dafoe and Julianne Nicholson, “Togo” is the untold true story set in the winter of 1925 that treks across the treacherous terrain of the Alaskan tundra for an exhilarating and uplifting adventure that will test the strength, courage and determination of one man, Leonhard Seppala, and his lead sled dog, Togo. The poignant and emotional adventure debuts on Disney+ on Dec. 20, 2019.
Kate Erbland on IndieWire: “Tom Flynn’s screenplay wedges in a hefty amount of fact-based drama (with a few curious tweaks), and while those elements will likely prove less appealing to younger viewers, the human demands and the canine cost of the quest to secure diphtheria-fighting serum during a horrific Alaska winter are the stuff of classic drama. Dafoe stars as legendary breeder and musher Leonhard Seppala (who helped normalize the use of Siberian Huskies beyond their Native American roots) as he sets out on a 600-mile journey to obtain the medicine needed to save the children of his adopted hometown of Nome, Alaska.”
Nicola Austin for Geeks Wordwide: “Togo is a character driven tale that focuses primarily on the central “man and his dog” tale rather than the wider race against time (and elements), and it’s all the better for it. The film flits between present day and flashbacks, nicely building up the central bond between Seppala and Togo – recounting his mischievous puppy years in which the musher tried to give him away twice(!), to him finding his heroic place leading the pack. It’s a beautiful bond that will undoubtedly melt the iciest of hearts; you know what they say about the purest love being between grumpy dads and the pets they said they didn’t want!”
~ ~ ~ ATTLA ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
From the film’s website: A co-production of ITVS & Vision Maker Media, ATTLA tells the gripping but little-known story of George Attla, a charismatic Alaska Native dogsled racer who, with one good leg and fierce determination, became a legendary sports hero in Northern communities around the world. Part dog whisperer, part canny businessman and part heartthrob, Attla rose to international fame during a unique period of history when Western education, economies, and culture penetrated the Alaskan village lifestyle and forever changed the state with the discovery of oil in the late 1960s. Spanning his fifty-year long career, the film tells Attla’s story from his childhood as a tuberculosis survivor in the Alaskan interior, through his rise as ten-time world champion and mythical state hero, to a village elder resolutely training his grandnephew to race his team one last time.
From PBS Independent Lens: “ATTLA tells the gripping but little-known story of George Attla, a charismatic Alaska Native dogsled racer who, with one good leg and fierce determination, became a legendary sports hero in Northern communities around the world. Part dog whisperer, part canny businessman and part heartthrob, Attla rose to international fame during a unique period of history when Western education, economies, and culture penetrated the Alaskan village lifestyle and forever changed the state with the discovery of oil in the late 1960s.
“ATTLA weaves George’s remarkable underdog story with the final chapter of his life, as he emerges from retirement to mentor his twenty-year-old grandnephew, Joe Bifelt, who takes a break from college to train with his uncle. With their sights set on reviving proud cultural traditions, the pair embark on a journey to compete in one of the world’s largest dogsled sprint races, one that has seen a steep decline in Native competitors.”
~ ~ ~ THE CALL OF THE WILD ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
20th Century Fox: Adapted from the beloved literary classic, THE CALL OF THE WILD vividly brings to the screen the story of Buck, a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life is turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Alaskan Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail delivery dog sled team–and later its leader–Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime, ultimately finding his true place in the world and becoming his own master. As a live-action/animation hybrid, THE CALL OF THE WILD employs cutting edge visual effects and animation technology in order to render the animals in the film as fully photorealistic–and emotionally authentic–characters.”
No reviews yet, scheduled for release in February, 2020.