Balto (film)

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Balto movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin.
Directed bySimon Wells
Produced bySteve Hickner
Screenplay by
Story byCliff Ruby & Elana Lesser
Music byJames Horner
CinematographyJan Richter-Friis
Edited byRenee Edwards
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 22, 1995 (1995-12-22)
Running time
77 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$31 million[1]
Box office$11.3 million[2]

Balto is a 1995 American live-action/animated epic drama 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 at Central Park in New York City. 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 DisneyPixar 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.[3][4]


In New York City, an elderly woman, her granddaughter and her Siberian Husky, Blaze 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, shifting the film from live-action to animation. Balto, a wolfdog hybrid, lives on the outskirts of Nome with his adoptive father, a snow goose named Boris and two polar bears, Muk and Luk. Being half-wolf, Balto is shunned by dogs and humans alike. His only friends in town are a beautiful red husky named Jenna, whom Balto has a crush on, and her owner, Rosy. He is later challenged by the town's favorite sled dog, Steele, a fierce and arrogant Alaskan Malamute.

Later that night, all of the children, including Rosy, fall ill with diphtheria and the doctor 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 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 stamps on Balto's paw which causes him to growl at the musher, getting him disqualified out of fear that he might turn on the musher due to his wolfdog heritage. The team departs that night with Steele in the lead and later picks up the medicine successfully, but on the way back, conditions worsen and the disoriented team ends up stranded at the base of a steep mountainside slope with the musher knocked unconscious.

When the word reaches Nome that the sled team is missing, the town prepares for the worst. Balto sets out in search of the sled team, along with Boris, Muk and Luk. On the way, they are attacked by a huge 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 bandanna and Boris gives him some advice.

Balto eventually finds the team, but Steele does not want his help and attacks him repeatedly 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, but they don't believe her. When Steele returns, he claims the entire team, including Balto, is dead; he uses Jenna's bandanna as supposed proof. However, Jenna sees through his lies and assures Balto will return with the medicine, but the others remain skeptical. Using a trick Balto showed her earlier, she places broken colored glass bottles on the outskirts of town and shine 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 and losing only one vial, Balto and the sled team finally make it back to Nome. A pity-playing Steele is exposed as a liar and abandoned by the other dogs, ruining his reputation. Reunited with Jenna, Boris, Muk and Luk, Balto earns respect from both the other dogs and the townspeople. He visits a cured Rosy, who thanks him for saving her life.

Back in the present day, the elderly woman, her granddaughter and Blaze finally find Balto's memorial, and she explains the Iditarod trail covers 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 have been lost without you," before walking off to join her granddaughter and Blaze. The film ends with 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. 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 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 who is 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.
  • 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 bears.[5] 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. 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

Historical differences[edit]

  • The film portrays Balto (1919-March 1933) as a gray wolfdog. In real life, Balto was a pure bred Siberian Husky and was black and white in color.[6][7] Balto's colors changed to brown due to light exposure whilst on display in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.[8] 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.
  • 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.[9][10]
  • 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 and never sired a litter.
  • The medicine was never driven by the dogs alone and none of the mushers were incapacitated.[6]
  • 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.[6][7][9]
  • 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.[3] Its release was vastly overshadowed by the performance of DisneyPixar's Toy Story, which premiered a month earlier.[4]

Box office[edit]

The film ranked 15th on its opening weekend and earned $1.5 million from a total of 1,427 theaters.[11] The film also ranked 7th among G-rated movies in 1995. Total domestic gross reach up to $11,348,324.[4] 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 neither sequel received as strong a reception as the original film.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed reviews upon release. According to review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 52% rating based on 23 reviews.[12] 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.[13] However, others, such as Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today, criticized the film for its lackluster voice work, particularly from Bacon, and its story.


Soundtrack album by Various artists
ReleasedDecember 4, 1995
GenreClassical, Pop, Modern classical [14]
Professional ratings
Review scores
LetsSingIt4/5 stars[15]

Balto: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the soundtrack of the film, composed by James Horner.[14]

Track listing[edit]

1."Reach for the Light"Steve Winwood, Barry Mann, Cynthia WeilSteve Winwood4:24
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)"Steve Winwood, Barry Mann, Cynthia WeilSteve Winwood5:27
Total length:54:30


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.[16] 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.[17] Unlike the original, neither sequels took any historical references from the true story of Balto.


  1. ^ "Balto (1995)". The Wrap. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
  2. ^ Balto at Box Office Mojo.
  3. ^ a b "Balto (1995)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  4. ^ a b c "1995 Yearly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  5. ^ Phil Collins. Not Dead Yet. London, England: Century Books. p. 269. ISBN 978-1-780-89513-0.
  6. ^ a b c Aversano, Earl. "Balto - Balto's True Story". Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  7. ^ a b "The True Story of Balto - Facts". Animation Source. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  8. ^ "Balto - Balto'S True Story". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  9. ^ a b Vrhovec, Maj. "The Real Story of Balto - Alpha Howl Library". Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  10. ^ Aversano, Earl. "Togo - Balto's True Story". Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  11. ^ "Balto - Box Office Data, DVD Sales, Movie News, Cast Information - The Numbers". Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  12. ^ "Balto - Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster. Retrieved 2018-06-30.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Balto Movie Review & Film Summary (1995)". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  14. ^ a b "James Horner - Balto (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (CD, Album)". Discogs. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  15. ^ "Balto Soundtrack Album". LetsSingIt. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  16. ^ "Balto: Wolf Quest (Video 2002)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  17. ^ "Balto III: Wings of Change (Video 2004)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2014-04-06.

External links[edit]