Balto is the story of a half-wolf half-dog hybrid who is treated as an outcast in the town of Nome, Alaska. However, that scorn is changed when Balto is called into action. Most of the children seem to be falling gravely ill and they’re out of the medicine in Nome to treat them. A team of men and dogs goes out to fetch it, led by a dog named Steele (Yes, that’s his real name), but they get lost in the snow. So now Balto must venture out to find the team, deliver the medicine back to the town and save the sick children.
Balto is loosely based on the real-life events that occurred in 1925 in the actual town of Nome Alaska. In reality, Balto wasn’t the main dog who delivered the medicine. In fact, he was part of the last team that carried the medicine home, and the more dangerous part was done by a team led by a dog named Togo. Also, Balto wasn’t an outcast dog on the streets. He was actually born in a kennel and belonged to a famous musher.
For better or worse, as with any adaptation of true events, they have to make changes in Balto, in order to make it an underdog story people will root for and enjoy. It also should go without saying that there weren’t any talking polar bears or geese helping Balto along his quest in real life. However, if can you put the historical inaccuracies aside, Balto.works quite well as an engaging survival/adventure animal story.
Part of why it works as well as it does is Balto is a very likeable character. You feel for him and want to see him get the medicine back to the town and get the respect he deserves. There is also legitimate tension when he does go out to look for the other sled-dogs and then struggles to lead them back home. Several of the obstacles he has to go through feel insurmountable such as bears, thin ice, avalanches, crumbling cliffs, getting lost, broken legs, losing his tail, trying to jump over lava (okay those last three I made up, but you get my point)! There’s a lot he has to go through.
The animation is also really nice in Balto. The overall look of it is engaging and draws you in. Plus, the character animation and backgrounds are gorgeous. There’s even some interesting stylistic choices made such as a dramatic scene when the bear attacks Balto and they use shadows against the ice for great effect.
The best part of Balto is Steele. On the surface, He could have just been a typical rival for Balto to go up against, but he is so enjoyable to watch not merely in his animation but from Jim Cummings fantastic’ voice-over work. He sounds like he’s having an absolute ball in this role.
If I did have some criticisms for Balto it comes from some of the side characters.The most important aspect being the comic relief sidekicks who are a little annoying with some of their comedy falling flat. Whether it is the snow goose voiced by Bob Hoskins or the two polar bears voiced by Phil Collins, they don’t really work as comic relief. It feels a little like they were included more to fit in with the trends of other animated films at the time more than because the story needed it. It makes sense to put in some humor to offset the seriousness of the situation, but they didn’t execute it well enough to get many laughs.
While I wouldn’t call Balto a great flim, it is a solid animated movie. It’s sweet and entertaining with a big heart that kids will love. I also wouldn’t call it a very good history lesson but it has some enjoyable characters, beautiful animation and some legitimately intense action. If you haven’t seen it and are remotely curious about it, check it out.