The Animation Corner: Balto

BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM | ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST

Author’s Note: This section is dedicated to calling attention to lesser known animated movies and television. If somebody has a suggestion for me to review or discuss, please feel free to email me and I will see what I can do!

Rating: 3/5 Stars

“Balto” (1995) is one of those early childhood nostalgia films for me, so I figured I’d revisit it and see how the film holds up after two decades.

The entire movie can be summarized in Boris the goose’s line, “[Balto’s] going into freezing coldness to find the dog he doesn’t like (Steele) and bring medicine back to a town that doesn’t like him.” Sounds uplifting.

Based on true events, the story follows the wolf-dog, Balto, as a diphtheria epidemic strikes the children of Nome, Ala. Balto (voiced by Kevin Bacon: “Footloose”) faces the bitter elements to lead a team of sled dogs to deliver medicine to the town. Along the way, he hopes to win the heart of Jenna (Bridget Fonda: “Jackie Brown”) and prove to Steele (Jim Cummings: Winnie the Pooh) and the rest of the town that he’s more than his breeding.

The plot structure of “Balto” reminds me of another ’90s film, “Once Upon a Forest,” as they both feature heroes going from point A to point B to retrieve medicine for the gravely ill. The problem with “Balto” is that the space between A and B is just a snowy wasteland, so in order to create danger and excitement, the film adds what you’d expect, namely frozen lakes, rocky cliffs and sharp icicles. To fill in extra space, the film sprinkles in several side characters for comedic effect, though, to be honest, I did not find most of the characters outside of the main four to be very entertaining. Maybe I just found it strange when one random dog is talking in a Boston accent, the other in a Brooklyn and the main canine cast in what seemed to be Midwestern. The two most annoying characters, though, are the two polar bears who are the nephews of Boris. Yeah…I didn’t get it either.

The film is at its best when the characters try to outwit each other, either with sharp jibes or witty retorts. Otherwise, the movie resorts to characters being hit on the head and animal puns to get a quick laugh. Not that I minded—sometimes a little head-bopping violence is appreciated. And even with “Balto’s” overall light-hearted tone, there are a few nicely put-together serious moments, such as when you see the carpenter making children-sized coffins.

“Balto” also has an amazing soundtrack thanks to the legendary James Horner, and the credit’s song “Reach for the Light” is a surprisingly sentimental piece for the movie. As for the animation itself, Amblin Entertainment did a remarkable job with the character designs and frosty landscapes.

I give “Balto” three stars because I do recognize that with all its limitations, the film wasn’t meant for college students. It is more than watchable, but the film knew its target audience, and “Balto” is indeed an above-average children’s movie. I recommend the film to anyone who loves taking nostalgia trips into the ’90s or someone who wants to add another degree to Kevin Bacon.

P.S. Be warned: the first two minutes of “Balto” are live-action, which really confused me when I started watching because I completely forgot about that.

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