Balto is a 1995 American live-action/animated adventure film directed by Simon Wells, produced by Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures. The film is loosely based on a true story about the dog of the same name who helped save children from the diphtheria epidemic in the 1925 serum run to Nome. The film stars Kevin Bacon, Bridget Fonda, Jim Cummings, Phil Collins (in a dual role) and Bob Hoskins, with Miriam Margoyles in the live-action sequences. The live-action portions of the film were shot in New York City's Central Park. The film was the third and final animated feature produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblimation animation studio. Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Bonne Radford acted as executive producers on the film. Although the film's theatrical run was overshadowed by the success of the competing Disney•Pixar film Toy Story, its subsequent strong sales on home video led to two direct-to-video sequels: Balto II: Wolf Quest (2002) and Balto III: Wings of Change (2005), though none of the voice cast reprised their roles. Unlike the film, the sequels were entirely animated and contain no live action scenes.
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin.
|Directed by||Simon Wells|
|Produced by||Steve Hickner|
|Story by||Cliff Ruby & Elana Lesser|
|Music by||James Horner|
|Edited by||Renee Edwards|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$11.3 million|
In New York City, an elderly woman, her granddaughter (Lola Bates-Campbell) and her Siberian Husky, Blaze, are walking through Central Park, looking for a memorial statue. As they seat themselves for a rest, the grandmother (Miriam Margoyles) tells a story of the 1925 serum run to Nome, shifting the film from live-action to animation.
The story goes back to the winter of 1925 in Nome, Alaska. Balto (Kevin Bacon), a young wolfdog, lives in an abandoned ship on the outskirts of Nome with his adoptive father, a Russian snow goose named Boris (Bob Hoskins) and two polar bears, Muk and Luk (Phil Collins). Being half-wolf, Balto is shunned by dogs and humans alike. His only friends in town are a red husky named Jenna (Bridget Fonda)-- whom Balto has a crush on-- and her owner, Rosy (Juliette Brewer). He is routinely bullied by the town's favorite sled dog, Steele (Jim Cummings), a fierce and arrogant Siberian Husky with whom he competes for Jenna's attention.
The evening after the annual dog race, 18 children, including Rosy, are taken to a hospital, apparently feeling very sick, which worries Jenna. After confirming the diagnosis, the doctor Curtis Welch, informs Rosy's parents in disappointment, that Rosy and the other children have been stricken with diphtheria, and he is out of antitoxin. The local wireless operator relays news of the outbreak and word travels to the territory capital of Juneau, where the governor orders a large box of antitoxin to be sent to Nome. However, severe winter weather conditions prevent medicine from being brought by sea or air and the closest rail line from Juneau ends at Nenana, 600 miles east of Nome. A dog race is held to determine the best-fit dogs for a sled dog team to get the medicine. Balto enters and wins, but Steele sabotages this by stomping on Balto's paw, which forces Balto to growl in pain and accidentally bare his wolf teeth in front of the musher, causing the humans to fear that Balto might turn on the musher due to his wolfdog heritage.
The team departs that night with Steele in the lead and successfully picks up the medicine, but on the way back conditions worsen and the disoriented team ends up stranded at the base of a steep mountainside slope with their musher knocked unconscious. When word reaches Nome that the sled team is missing, the town prepares for the worst, and even the town carpenter Mr. Johanson, sadly proceeds to build child-sized coffins for the sick children. Balto sets out in search of the team, along with Boris, Muk and Luk. On the way, they are ambushed by a giant grizzly bear, but Jenna, who followed their mark tracks, intervenes. The bear pursues Balto out onto a frozen lake, where it falls through the ice and drowns, while Muk and Luk dive in to save Balto from a similar fate. Jenna is injured in the bear fight and cannot continue. Balto instructs Boris and the polar bears to take her back home while he continues on alone; Jenna gives him her bandana and Boris gives him some advice.
Balto, marking his path by clawing trees, eventually finds the team and offers to guide them home, but Steele, callously and selfishly refusing to accept help, goes ballistic and repeatedly tries to attack Balto, only to lose his balance and fall over a cliff. Balto takes charge of the team, but Steele, being the ingrate that he is, spitefully camouflages Balto's markings with fake ones, and they are thrown off the trail again. As a result, Balto gets scared, panics, and runs too fast, causing the medicine to nearly fall over a cliff. While attempting to save the medicine from falling, Balto himself falls. Back in Nome, Jenna is explaining Balto's mission to the other dogs, but they don't believe her. When Steele returns, he claims the entire team, including Balto, is dead; he uses Jenna's bandana (which he ripped off Balto's neck during the fight) as supposed proof. However, Jenna sees through his lies and insists that Balto is coming home with the medicine, but the other dogs remain skeptical. Using a trick Balto showed her earlier, Jenna places broken colored glass bottles on the boundary of town and shines a lantern on them to simulate an illusion of the Northern Lights, hoping it will help guide Balto home.
When Balto regains consciousness, he breaks down in tears, believing himself to have failed miserably, but after a polar wolf appears and Balto notices the medicine still unharmed nearby, he realizes that being part-wolf does not weaken him, but strengthens him. Upon this realization, Balto regains his confidence, and rallying all of his bodily strength, he drags the medicine all the way back up the cliff to the waiting team, impressing them and earning their respect. Through his highly developed senses of smell, Balto is able to filter out the false markings Steele created. After encountering further challenges and losing only one vial, Balto and the sled team finally make it back to Nome. Balto's return with the medicine exposes Steele as a liar and as a result, the other dogs, realizing Jenna was right all along, angrily turn against Steele, ruining his reputation and shattering his pride. Reunited with Jenna, Boris, Muk and Luk, Balto is hailed the town hero by both the other dogs and the townspeople. He visits a cured Rosy, who thanks him for saving her life. As team members Nikki, Kaltag and Star (Jack Angel, Danny Mann and Robbie Rist) congratulate Balto, Star comments that they should build a statue of Balto, which Kaltag agrees with, much to Star's surprise (as Kaltag had previously spent the entire film smacking him in the face for speaking up).
Back in the present day, the elderly woman, her granddaughter and Blaze finally find Balto's memorial (courtesy of Blaze's smell senses), and she explains that even to the present day, Alaska runs the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race over the same path that Balto and his team took from Nenana to Nome. When the woman's granddaughter asks if Blaze can do exactly what Balto did, the woman says that if Blaze practices a lot, it's possible that he can. The woman is then revealed to be an older Rosy when she repeats the same line, "Thank you, Balto. I would've been lost without you," before walking off to join her granddaughter and Blaze. The film ends with Balto's statue standing proudly in the sunlight.
Cast and charactersEdit
- Kevin Bacon as Balto, a young adult male wolfdog; being half-Siberian Husky and half-Arctic wolf. Jeffrey James Varab and Dick Zondag served as the supervising animators for Balto.
- Bob Hoskins as Boris Goosinoff, a Russian snow goose and Balto's caretaker and sidekick. Kristof Serrand served as the supervising animator for Boris.
- Bridget Fonda as Jenna, a female red Siberian Husky and Rosy's pet as well as Balto's love interest. Robert Stevenhagen served as the supervising animator for Jenna.
- Juliette Brewer as Rosy, Jenna's owner and a kind, excitable girl who was the only human in Nome kind to Balto. She falls ill along with the other children in town, but Balto brings the medicine to save their lives. David Bowers served as the supervising animator for Rosy.
- Miriam Margolyes as old Rosy in the live-action sequences who tells her story to her granddaughter.
- Jim Cummings as Steele, an Siberian Husky who bullies Balto and also has a crush on Jenna. Sahin Ersöz served as the supervising animator for Steele.
- Phil Collins as Muk and Luk, a pair of polar bears. Nicolas Marlet served as the supervising animator for Muk and Luk.
- Jack Angel, Danny Mann and Robbie Rist as Nikki, Kaltag and Star, respectively, the three prominent members of Steele's team. William Salazar served as the supervising animator for the team.
- Sandra Dickinson as Dixie, a female Pomeranian and one of Jenna's friends who adores Steele until his lies are exposed by Balto returning with the medicine needed to cure the children. Dickinson also voices Sylvie, a female Afghan Hound who is also Jenna's friend; and Rosy's mother. Patrick Mate served as the supervising animator for Sylvie and Dixie.
- Lola Bates-Campbell as Rosy's unnamed granddaughter, who appears in the live-action sequences and is accompanied by her dog Blaze, a purebred Siberian Husky.
- William Roberts as Rosy's father
- Donald Sinden as Curtis Welch, the doctor
- Bill Bailey as a butcher
- Garrick Hagon as a telegraph operator
- Frank Welker as Grizzly Bear
Balto was recorded in Fall 1994 at Universal Cartoon Studios (now Universal Animation Studios). At the same time, the live-action prologue and epilogue segments were filmed in Central Park. The role as elderly Rosy's granddaughter's husky, Blaze was played by two light copper and white blue-eyed Siberian Huskies.
- The film portrays Balto (1919-March 1933) as a brownish-gray wolfdog. In real life, Balto was a purebred Siberian Husky and was black and white in color. Balto's colors changed to brown due to light exposure whilst on display in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The makers of the film may have chosen to differentiate Balto from the other prominent sled dog of the movie, Steele, who also had a black and white coat.
- In real life, the sled run to retrieve the medicine was actually a relay. Instead of being the leader of the first and only team, Balto was the leader of the 20th and last team to carry the medicine to Nome. The longest and most hazardous distance was traveled by the 18th and third-to-last team, which was led by Togo.
- In the film, the reason why Dr. Curtis Welch orders the medicine to be sent to Nome is because his supply has completely run out. In real life, the reason was that his entire batch was past its expiration date and no longer had any effect.
- In the film, the medicine is shipped to Nenana from the Alaskan capital of Juneau, but in real life, it was shipped from Anchorage.
- The medicine was transported in a 300,000 unit cylinder. In the film, it is transported in a large square crate.
- In the film, the only residents of Nome who contract diphtheria are 18 children, but in real life, many more were infected, including adults.
- In the sequels, Balto became a proud father with Jenna and they had a litter of puppies who grew up and moved on with their lives, but in real life, Balto was neutered at 3 months of age, and thus, he never sired a litter.
- In real life, the dogs never drove the medicine by themselves, because none of the mushers were ever knocked unconscious.
- Balto was never an outcast street dog as shown by the film, but was instead born in a kennel owned by the famous musher Leonhard Seppala, where he was trained until deemed fit for pulling a sled as the lead dog. Seppala was also the owner of Togo (1913-1929), whom he personally used to lead his dog team during the relay. Balto was used by one of Seppala's workers, Gunnar Kaasen.
- In the sequels, Balto continued living in Nome along with his family and friends (the events of the third film happened in 1928), but in real life, Balto and his team were sent to the Brookside Zoo (now the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo) in 1927 where they spent their last years. Balto rested there until his death on March 14, 1933 at the age of 14. After he died, his body was taxidermied and kept in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where it remains today.
The film was theatrically released in the United States on December 22, 1995 and then international theatres on January 13, 1996 when it first premiered in Brazil. Its release was vastly overshadowed by the performance of Disney•Pixar's Toy Story, which premiered a month earlier.
The film ranked 15th on its opening weekend and earned $1.5 million from a total of 1,427 theaters. The film also ranked 7th among G-rated movies in 1995. Total domestic gross reach up to $11,348,324. While the film was not as successful as the toys, it was far more successful in terms of video sales. These strong video sales led to the release of two direct-to-video sequels: Balto II: Wolf Quest and Balto III: Wings of Change being created, though neither sequel received as strong a reception as the original film.
The film received mixed reviews upon release. According to review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 52% rating based on 23 reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review, describing the film as "a kids' movie, simply told, with lots of excitement and characters you can care about" and praised every thrilling scene. However, others, such as Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today, criticized the film for its lackluster voice work, particularly from Bacon, and its story.
Balto released on VHS and Laserdisc in 1996, and re-released in 1998 on VHS. Balto released on VHS and DVD in February 19, 2002.
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||December 4, 1995|
|Genre||Classical, Pop, Modern classical |
|1.||"Reach for the Light"||James Horner, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil||Steve Winwood||4:24|
|2.||"Main Title/Balto's Story Unfolds"||4:40|
|3.||"The Dogsled Race"||1:41|
|4.||"Rosy Goes to the Doctor"||4:05|
|5.||"Boris & Balto"||1:29|
|6.||"The Journey Begins"||5:06|
|8.||"Jenna/Telegraphing the News"||2:22|
|10.||"The Epidemic's Toll"||3:29|
|11.||"Heritage of the Wolf"||5:54|
|12.||"Balto Brings the Medicine!"||4:53|
|13.||"Reach for the Light (Long Version)"||James Horner, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil||Steve Winwood||5:27|
Two direct-to-video sequels of the film followed, made by the Universal Cartoon Studios with their animation done overseas by the Taiwanese studio Wang Film Productions. Kevin Bacon, Bob Hoskins, Bridget Fonda, and Phil Collins didn't reprise their roles. The first, Balto II: Wolf Quest, was released in 2002 and follows the adventures of one of Balto and Jenna's pups, Aleu, who sets off to discover her wolf heritage. The second, Balto III: Wings of Change, was released in 2004. The storyline follows the same litter of pups from Balto II but focuses on Kodi as part of a U.S. Mail dog sled delivery team. Unlike the original, neither sequels took any historical references from the true story of Balto.
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