Balto is a 1995 American animated comedy-drama film directed by Simon Wells. It is based on the historical 1925 serum run in Alaska.
It was released on December 22, 1995 by Universal Pictures & produced by Amblin Entertainment; it is the last animated film from Amblin's animation company Amblimation to be released before it closed down and later became known as DreamWorks Animation.
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 & Luk. Being half-breed, Balto is ridiculed by dogs and humans alike and his only friends in town are a beautiful red husky named Jenna, whom Balto has a crush on & 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) become 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 the 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 deteriorate and the 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 and saves them.
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 by himself. Jenna gives him her bandanna and Boris gives him some advice.
Balto eventually finds the team, but Steele refuses 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 trying 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 and 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 that Balto showed her earlier, Jenna places broken colored glass bottles on the outskirts of town and shines a lantern on them to simulate the lights of an aurora, hoping that 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, Balto realizes that his part-wolf heritage is a strength, not a weakness and he drags the medicine back up the cliff to the waiting team.
Using his advanced senses, Balto is able to filter out the false markers that Steele created. After encountering further challenges and losing only one vial, Balto and the sled team are able to 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 & 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. The woman explains that 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.
- Kevin Bacon as Balto (voice)
- Bob Hoskins as Boris (voice)
- Bridget Fonda as Jenna (voice)
- Jim Cummings as Steele (voice)
- Juliette Brewer as Rosy (voice)
- Miriam Margolyes as Grandma Rosy
- Lola Bates-Campbell as Rosy's granddaughter
- Phil Collins as Muk and Luk (voices)
- Jack Angel as Nikki (voice)
- Danny Mann as Kaltag (voice)
- Robbie Rist as Star (voice)
- Sandra Dickinson as Dixie (voice)
- William Roberts as Rosy's father (voice)
- Donald Sinden as Doc (voice)
"Balto" ranked 15th on its opening weekend and earned $1.5 million from a total of 1,427 theaters. The total domestic gross reach up to $11,348,324.
While the film was not as successful at the box office, "Balto" was far more successful in terms of video sales.
These strong video sales led to the release of two direct-to-video sequels being created, though neither sequel received as strong a reception as the original film.
"Balto" has received mixed reviews from critics.
On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 50% rating based on 12 reviews.
Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review, describing it as "a kids' movie, simply told, with lots of excitement and characters you can care about" and gave the film 3 out of 4 stars.
Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle called it a "plucky dog story."
However, other critics such as Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today, criticized the film for its lackluster voice work (particularly from Kevin Bacon) and its story.
Rita Kempley of the Washington Post wrote in her review of the movie:
"Balto," both computer-animated and hand-drawn, certainly isn't in the same league as "Toy Story" or any other Disney feature. For that matter, the movie's artistry dims in comparison to that of "Dogs Playing Poker."