Balto (film)

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This article is about the film. For the character, see Balto (character). For the sled dog, see Balto.
Balto movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin.
Directed by Simon Wells
Produced by Steve Hickner
Screenplay by
Story by Cliff Ruby & Elana Lesser
Narrated by Miriam Margoyles
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Jan Richter-Friis
Edited by
  • Renee Edwards
  • Nick Fletcher and Sim Evan-Jones (supervising editors)
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 22, 1995 (1995-12-22)
Running time
77 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $11.3 million[1]

Balto is a 1995 American live-action/animated historical adventure drama 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 live-action portions of the film were filmed at Central Park, in New York City.

The film was the 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 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).[2][3]


In present-day at New York City, an elderly woman and her granddaughter are walking through Central Park, looking for a memorial statue. As they seat themselves for a rest, the grandmother tells a story about Nome, Alaska, back in 1925 which shifts the film from live-action to animation.

Balto, a wolfdog hybrid, lives on the outskirts of Nome with his best friend and adoptive father, a snow goose named Boris and two polar bears, Muk and Luk. Being half-breed, Balto is ridiculed by dogs and humans alike. His only friend in town is a red husky named Jenna who Balto has a crush on and is challenged by the town's favorite sled dog, Steele, a fierce and arrogant purebred Alaskan Malamute. That night, all the children, including Jenna's owner, Rosie, fall ill with diphtheria. Severe winter weather conditions prevent medicine to be brought by air or sea, and the closest rail line ends in Nenana, Alaska. The next day, 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 wolf-dog heritage, resulting in him being disqualified.

The team departs that night with Steele in the lead and picks up the medicine successfully, but on the way back, conditions deteriorate and the disoriented team ends up stranded at the base of a steep slope with the musher knocked unconscious. When the word reaches Nome, Balto sets out in search of them with Boris, Muk and Luk. On the way, they are attacked by a huge grizzly bear, but Jenna, who followed their tracks, arrives to help, though she is injured in the process. The bear pursues Balto out onto a frozen lake, where it falls through the ice and drowns while Muk and Luk save Balto from a similar fate. However, Jenna's injuries mean that she cannot make the journey with the rest of the group. Balto instructs Boris, Muk and Luk to take her back to Nome while he continues on alone.

Balto eventually finds the team, but Steele does not want his help and attacks him until he loses his balance and falls off a cliff. Balto takes charge of the team, but Steele, refusing to concede defeat, throws them off the trail and they lose their way again. While attempting to save the medicine from falling down a cliff, Balto himself falls. Back in Nome, Jenna is explaining Balto's mission to the other dogs when Steele returns, claiming the entire team, including Balto, is dead. However, Jenna sees through his deception and assures Balto will return with the medicine. Using a trick Balto showed her earlier, she places broken colored glass bottles on the outskirts of town and shines a lantern on them to simulate the lights of an aurora, hoping it will help guide Balto home.

When Balto regains consciousness, he is ready to give up hope, but when a large, white wolf appears and he notices the medicine crate still intact nearby, he realizes that his part-wolf heritage is a strength, not a weakness, and drags the medicine back up the cliff to the waiting team. Using his advanced senses, Balto is able to filter out the false markers Steele created. After encountering further challenges, Balto and the sled team finally make it back to Nome with only one vial lost. A pity-playing Steele is exposed as a liar and abandoned by the other dogs, ruining his reputation. Reunited with Jenna and his friends, Balto earns respect from both the dogs and the humans. He visits a cured Rosie who thanks him for the medicine.

Back in the present day, the elderly woman and her granddaughter finally find the memorial commemorating Balto, and she explains that the Iditarod trail covers the same path that Balto and his team took from Nenana to Nome. The woman, who is actually Rosie, repeats the same line, "Thank you, Balto. I would have been lost without you," before walking off to join her granddaughter, leaving the Balto statue standing proudly in the sunlight.

Cast and characters[edit]

  • Kevin Bacon as Balto, a young adult male wolfdog; being half-husky and half-wolf. His biological father was a Siberian husky and his biological mother, Aniu was a wild, white wolf. Jeffrey James Varab and Dick Zondag served as the supervising animators for Balto.
  • Bob Hoskins as Boris, 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 Husky and Rosie's pet as well as Balto's love interest. Robert Stevenhagen served as the supervising animator for Jenna.
  • Juliette Brewer as young Rosie, Jenna's owner and a kind, excitable girl who was the only human in Nome who is kind to Balto. She falls ill, but Balto brings the medicine to save her and the other children. David Bowers served as the supervising animator for Rosie.
  • Miriam Margolyes as old Rosie in the live-action sequences who tells her story to her granddaughter.
  • Jim Cummings as Steele, an Alaskan Malamute and Balto's rival who 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 bear cubs, Muk talks but not Luk. 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 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. Dickinson also voices Sylvie, a female Afghan Hound who is Jenna's friend as well; and Rosie's mother. Patrick Mate served as the supervising animator for Sylvie and Dixie.
  • Lola Bates-Campbell as Rosie's granddaughter, who appears in the live-action sequences and is accompanied by her dog Blaze, purebred Siberian Husky.
  • William Roberts as Rosie's father
  • Donald Sinden as a doctor
  • Bill Bailey as a butcher
  • Garrick Hagon as a telegraph operator
  • Frank Welker as the Grizzly Bear

Historical differences[edit]

  • The biggest inaccuracy in the film portrays Balto (1919–March 1933) as a brown wolfdog. In real life, Balto was a pure bred Siberian Husky and was black and white in color.[4][5] Balto's colors changed to brown due to light exposure whilst on display in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.[6]
  • The sled run to retrieve the medicine was a relay. Instead of being the leader of the first team, Balto was the leader of the last team to carry the medicine to Nome. The longest and most hazardous distance was traveled by the team led by Togo.[7][8]
  • The medicine was never driven by the dogs alone, and none of the mushers were incapacitated.[4]
  • 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.[4][5][7]
  • Balto is the only animal and the only character in the movie who is based on an actual historical figure.[5]
  • In the sequels, Balto was shown to have offspring, but in real life he was neutered at a young age.[5]
  • 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 the 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.


The film was theatrically released in the United States on 22 December 1995 and then hit international theatres on 13 January 1996 when it first premiered in Brazil.[2] Its release was vastly overshadowed by the performance of DisneyPixar's Toy Story. But the film did end up recouping its small budget and did modest business at the box office.[3]

Box office[edit]

The film ranked 15th on its opening weekend and earned $1,519,755 from a total of 1,427 theatres.[9] The film also ranked 7th among G-rated movies in 1995. Total domestic gross reach up to $11,348,324.[3] While the film was not as successful at the box office, 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 didn't receive as strong reception when compared to the original film.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed reviews upon release. According to review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 50% rating based on 24 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "The animation is great, but Balto's details and its plot are so-so".[10] 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". He gave the film 3 out of 4 stars. However, others, such as Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today, criticised the film for its lackluster voice work, particularly from Bacon, and its story.[11] Despite the mixed response, the film has garnered a strong cult following on the internet and is generally considered to be a cult classic by animation fans. Another review aggregator, Metacritic, calculated an average score of 52/100 based on 10 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".


Soundtrack album by Various artists
Released 1995
Recorded 1994-1995
Genre Classical, Pop, Modern classical [12]
Length 54:30
Label Universal
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
LetsSingIt 4/5 stars[13]

Balto: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the soundtrack of the film, composed by James Horner.[12]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Performer(s) Length
1. "Reach for the Light"   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
7. "Grizzly Bear"       5:23
8. "Jenna/Telegraphing the News"       2:22
9. "Steele's Treachery"       4:38
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)"   Cynthia Weil Steve Winwood 5:27
Total length:


Two direct-to-video sequels of the film followed, made by the Universal Cartoon Studios. The first sequel, 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.[14] A subsequent third film, 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.[15] Unlike the original, neither films took any historical references from the true story of Balto.


  1. ^ Balto at Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ a b "Balto (1995)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  3. ^ a b c "1995 Yearly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  4. ^ a b c Aversano, Earl. "Balto - Balto's True Story". Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  5. ^ a b c d "The True Story of Balto - Facts". Animation Source. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Vrhovec, Maj. "The Real Story of Balto - Alpha Howl Library". Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  8. ^ Aversano, Earl. "Togo - Balto's True Story". Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  9. ^ "Balto - Box Office Data, DVD Sales, Movie News, Cast Information - The Numbers". Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  10. ^ "Balto - Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Balto Movie Review & Film Summary (1995)". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  12. ^ a b "James Horner - Balto (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (CD, Album)". Discogs. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  13. ^ "Balto Soundtrack Album". LetsSingIt. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  14. ^ "Balto: Wolf Quest (Video 2002)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  15. ^ "Balto III: Wings of Change (Video 2004)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 

External links[edit]