Balto is a 1995 American-British 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 infected by 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 Margolyes 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 UK-based 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 (2004), 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|
|Screenplay by||Cliff Ruby |
David Steven Cohen
Roger S. H. Schulman
|Story by||Cliff Ruby |
|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) and her owner, Rosy (Juliette Brewer). He is routinely bullied by the town's favorite sled dog, Steele (Jim Cummings), a fierce and arrogant Alaskan Malamute with whom he competes for Jenna's attention.
The evening after the annual dog race, 18 children, including Rosy, fall ill with diphtheria, and the doctor is out of antitoxin. An urgent telegram is sent to Juneau, where the territory 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 exposes his wolfdog heritage and he leaves in disgrace.
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. 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 while fighting the bear and cannot continue, so Balto instructs Boris and the polar bears to take her back home while he continues on alone.
Balto, marking his path by clawing trees, eventually finds the team and offers to guide them home, but Steele refuses and attacks him until he falls off a cliff. Balto takes charge of the team, but Steele spitefully camouflages Balto's markings with fake ones, and they lose their way again. While attempting to save the medicine from falling over a cliff, Balto himself falls. Back in Nome, Jenna is explaining Balto's mission to the other dogs when Steele returns, claiming Balto and the team are dead. However, Jenna sees through his lies and insists that Balto is coming home with the medicine. Using a trick Balto showed her earlier, Jenna places broken colored glass bottles on the outskirts of town and shines a lantern on them to simulate an illusion of the Northern Lights, hoping it will help guide Balto home.
The next morning, Balto regains consciousness and falls into despair, 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, a treacherous ice bridge, an avalanche and losing only one vial in a cave full of unstable stalactites, Balto and the sled team finally make it back to Nome. Steele is exposed as a liar and deserted by the other dogs, ruining his reputation and shattering his pride. Reunited with his friends, Balto is hailed as a hero by the other dogs and the townspeople. He visits a cured Rosy, who thanks him for saving her life. On the sidelines, sled teammates Nikki, Kaltag and Star (Jack Angel, Danny Mann and Robbie Rist) agree a statue of Balto should be built in his honor.
Back in the present day, the elderly woman, her granddaughter and Blaze finally find Balto's memorial, 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. 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 a Siberian Husky-Arctic wolf hybrid. 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, a Siberian Husky/Alaskan Malamute mix 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, and later, Balto'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 Doc
- Bill Bailey as a Butcher
- Garrick Hagon as a Telegraph Operator
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 54% rating based on 24 reviews. The critical consensus reads, "Balto is a well-meaning adventure with spirited animation, but mushy sentimentality and bland characterization keeps it at paw's length from more sophisticated family fare." 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.
Balto released on VHS and Laserdisc in 1996 by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment in North America and internationally, and CIC Video in the UK. The VHS version was made available once more on 1998, under the Universal Family Features label.
The film has released on DVD in February 19, 2002, which includes a game, "Where is the Dog Sled Team". This version was reprinted along with other Universal films such as An American Tail, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and The Land Before Time. It was released in widescreen on Blu-ray for the first time on July 4, 2017, which included a digital HD and UltraViolet copy.
|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 fictional 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 did not 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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