|Directed by||Simon Wells|
|Produced by||Steve Hickner|
|Screenplay by||Cliff Ruby |
Roger S. H. Schulman
David Steven Cohen
|Story by||Cliff Ruby |
|Music by||James Horner|
|Edited by||Renee Edwards|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$11 million|
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 infected with diphtheria 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.
Balto was the third and final animated feature produced by Steven Spielberg's UK-based Amblimation studio before it became DreamWorks Animation, which would later be acquired by Universal's parent company NBCUniversal on August 22, 2016. Although the film was a major financial disappointment (it was overshadowed by the success of Pixar Animation Studios' first film Toy Story), and received mixed reviews from critics, its subsequent 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 original voice cast reprised their roles.
In New York City, an elderly woman, her granddaughter, and the latter's Siberian Husky, Blaze, are walking through Central Park, looking for a memorial. As they seat themselves for a rest, the woman tells her granddaughter a story about Nome, Alaska 70 years earlier in the winter of 1925, shifting the film from live-action to animation.
Balto, a young wolfdog, lives in rural Nome with a snow goose named Boris Goosinov and two polar bears, Muk and Luk. Being half-wolf, Balto is despised by dogs and humans alike. The only dog and human in town who are kind to him are Jenna and Rosy. He is often bullied by champion sled dog Steele, a fierce and arrogant Malamute, who also likes Jenna.
One evening, all of the children are hospitalized with diphtheria, and Curtis Welch waits to get antitoxin. Severe winter weather conditions prevent medicine from being brought from Juneau by air or sea, and the closest rail line ends in Nenana. 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 half, causing his disqualification. The team departs that night with Steele in the lead and picks up the medicine successfully, but on the way back, they end up stranded at the base of an icy hill, with the musher unconscious.
When this news reaches Nome, Balto sets out in search of them with Boris, Muk and Luk. On the way, they are attacked by a massive grizzly bear, but Jenna, who followed their marked trail, intervenes. The bear pursues Balto out onto a frozen lake, where he falls through the ice and drowns, while Muk and Luk save Balto from a similar fate. However, Jenna has been injured and cannot continue on. Balto instructs Boris and the polar bears to take her home while he continues on his own. Jenna gives him her bandanna to wear. Balto eventually finds the team, but Steele refuses his help out of callousness and attacks Balto, only to fall off a cliff. Balto takes charge of the team, but Steele, refusing to concede defeat, spitefully sabotages Balto's marks and the team loses 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, using Jenna's bandanna as fake proof. However, Jenna sees through his lies and insists 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 Northern Lights, hoping it will help guide Balto home. When Balto regains consciousness, he is ready to give up hope, but when a polar wolf appears and Balto notices the medicine crate still intact nearby, he realizes that his part-wolf heritage is a strength, not a weakness. Balto rallies his confidence and drags the medicine back up the cliff to the waiting team. Using his highly developed senses, Balto is able to filter out the fake marks Steele created.
After encountering further challenges and losing only one vial, Balto and the sled team finally make it back to Nome. Steele is exposed as a liar, and the other dogs abandon him in anger, and refusing his pleads to explain. Reunited with his friends, Balto earns respect from both the dogs and the humans. He visits a cured Rosy, who thanks him for saving her. Back in the present day, the woman, her granddaughter, and Blaze finally find Balto's memorial, and she explains that Alaska runs the Iditarod dog race over the same path that Balto and his team took. The woman, revealed to be an elderly Rosy, repeats the same line, "Thank you, Balto. I would've been lost without you", before walking off to join her granddaughter and Blaze. The statue of Balto stands proudly in the sunlight.
Cast and characters
- Kevin Bacon as Balto, a young adult male brown-and-grey wolfdog; being a Siberian Husky-Arctic wolf hybrid. Jeffrey James Varab and Dick Zondag served as the supervising animators for Balto. Bacon is succeeded by Maurice LaMarche in the direct-to-video sequels, Balto II: Wolf Quest and Balto III: Wings of Change.
- Bob Hoskins as Boris Goosinov, a Russian snow goose and Balto's caretaker, mentor, adoptive uncle, and sidekick. Kristof Serrand served as the supervising animator for Boris. Hoskins is succeeded by Charles Fleischer in the sequels.
- Bridget Fonda as Jenna, a female copper-and-white Siberian Husky and Rosy's pet as well as Balto's love interest. Her facial design is based on actress Audrey Hepburn. Robert Stevenhagen served as the supervising animator for Jenna. Fonda is succeeded by Jodi Benson in the sequels.
- Juliette Brewer as Rosy, Jenna's owner and a kind, excitable girl who was the only human in Nome who was kind to Balto. David Bowers served as the supervising animator for Rosy. Rosy makes a brief cameo in Balto III: Wings of Change.
- Jim Cummings as Steele, a male black-and-white Alaskan Malamute who bullies Balto and also has a crush on Jenna. Sahin Ersöz served as the supervising animator for Steele. Brendan Fraser was originally cast to voice Steele, before being replaced by Cummings.
- Phil Collins as Muk and Luk, a pair of polar bears. Nicolas Marlet served as the supervising animator for Muk and Luk. Collins is succeeded by Kevin Schon in the sequels.
- Jack Angel, Danny Mann and Robbie Rist as Nikki, Kaltag and Star, respectively, the only three prominent members of Steele's team, who later abandon him for Balto. Nikki is a reddish-brown Chow-Chow, Kaltag is a honey-yellow Chinook-esque dog, and Star is a mauve-and-cream blue-eyed Siberian Husky. William Salazar served as the supervising animator for the team. Nikki, Kaltag and Star make brief cameos in Balto III: Wings of Change.
- 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. Sylvie makes a brief cameo in Balto III: Wings of Change.
- 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, an old St. Bernard
- Bill Bailey as a butcher
- Garrick Hagon as a telegraph operator
Production and development on Balto began in May 1989 at Universal City Studios and Amblin Entertainment in Universal City, California, along with An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) and We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (1993). Voice-recording sessions took place at The Bridge Facilities in London (now folded into Miloco Studios and renamed The Bridge Writing Studio) between late 1992 and early 1993. Brendan Fraser was originally cast as Steele, because director Simon Wells had envisioned Steele as a school quarterback jock carried away by his sense of importance, and felt that Fraser fitted that personality well. According to Wells, "I liked Brendan a great deal, and we did one recording session with him that was terrific." However, executive producer Steven Spielberg wanted a clearer sense of Steele's "inherent evil", so Fraser was replaced by Jim Cummings. Wells stated that Cummings "did a fantastic job, and totally made the character live, so I don't regret the choice."
After the actors recorded their voices, animating and filming commenced at Amblimation in London on March 1, 1993. To have a source for the dogs' character animation to be based on, the filmmakers brought in about seven Siberian Huskies and videotaped them walking around in the studio. Although most of the film's animation was hand-drawn, the animators used Toonz to improve the graphics, and also created the snowstorms using an early CGI particle animation system. Additional animation was done by the Danish studio A. Film Production. James Horner composed the film's music, including the film's only song, "Reach for the Light", sung by Steve Winwood, which plays over the film's closing credits.
The film's live-action prologue and epilogue segments were filmed in Central Park in Fall 1994. The role as elderly Rosy's granddaughter's husky, Blaze, was played by two light red blue-eyed Siberian Huskies.
The film has many historical inaccuracies:
- The film portrays Balto (1919 – March 14, 1933) as a brown-and-gray wolfdog. In reality, Balto was a purebred Siberian Husky and was black and white in color. Balto's colors changed to brown due to light exposure while on display in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
- Balto was never an outcast street dog as shown by the film, but was instead born in a kennel owned by the famous musher and breeder Leonhard Seppala, who raised and trained him until Balto was deemed fit for being a sled dog.
- In reality, the sled run to retrieve the medicine was actually a relay. Instead of being the leader of the first and only team, Balto was scheduled to be part of the penultimate team led by dog Fox. This team left by Seppala, while driven by Gunnar Kaasen. Although they were scheduled to hand off the serum to the final team, Kaasen decided to advance on. They eventually became the 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 (October 17, 1913 – December 5, 1929). However, considerable controversy surrounded Balto's use as a lead dog on Kaasen's team, including many mushers and others at the time doubting the claims that he truly led the team, based primarily on the dog's track record, at most being a co-lead with Seppala's dog Fox. No record exists of Seppala ever having used him as a leader in runs or races prior to 1925, and Seppala himself stated Balto "was never in a winning team", and was a "scrub dog".
- 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 reality, 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 reality, it was shipped from Anchorage, 800 miles southeast of Nome.
- 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 reality, many more were infected, including adults.
- In reality, none of the mushers were ever knocked unconscious.
- In the sequels, Balto becomes Jenna's mate and they have a litter of puppies who grow up and move on with their lives. In reality, however, Balto was neutered as a puppy and consequently never fathered a litter. On the other hand, Togo fathered many litters.
- In the sequels, Balto continues living in Nome along with his family and friends, but in reality, 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 that of Pixar's Toy Story, which had 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. Its total domestic gross was $11,348,324. Despite being the biggest box-office disappointment of the year, it was much 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.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 54% based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 5.90/10. The website's 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 was released on VHS and Laserdisc on April 2, 1996, by MCA/Universal Home Video in North America and CIC Video internationally. The VHS version was made available once more on August 11, 1998, under the Universal Family Features label.
The film was released on DVD on 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 initially released in widescreen on Blu-ray for the first time exclusively at Walmart retailers on April 4, 2017 before its wide release on July 4, 2017.
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||December 4, 1995|
|Studio||Abbey Road Studios|
|Genre||Pop, modern classical|
|Singles from Balto|
|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|
The film received 5 Annie award nominations, including Best Animated Film, losing all to Toy Story.
Two fictional direct-to-video sequels of the film followed, made by Universal Cartoon Studios with their animation done overseas by the Taiwanese studio Wang Film Productions, as Amblimation had gone out of business. Due to the sequels being completely fictional and having a completely different crew, Kevin Bacon, Bob Hoskins, Bridget Fonda, and Phil Collins did not reprise their roles in either of them. Instead, Bacon was replaced by Maurice LaMarche as the voice of Balto, Hoskins was replaced by Charles Fleischer as the voice of Boris, Fonda was replaced by Jodi Benson as the voice of Jenna, and Collins was replaced by Kevin Schon as the voices of Muk and Luk. Furthermore, numerous supporting characters from the original (such as Steele, Nikki, Kaltag and Star) either did not return in the sequels or were turned into background characters in them for unstated reasons (possibly because they were either written out by mistake or the writers simply forgot about their existence). 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. The second, Balto III: Wings of Change, was released in 2005. The storyline follows the same litter of pups from Balto II: Wolf Quest, but focuses on another pup, Kodi, who is a member of a U.S. Mail dog sled delivery team, and is in danger of getting put out of his job by Duke, a pilot of a mail delivery bush plane. Unlike the original film, neither of the sequels took any historical references from the true story of Balto and contain no live action sequences.
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- Reamer, David (1 March 2020). "Togo was the true hero dog of the serum run; it's about time he got his due". Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
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