BALTO is a cartoon movie for kids. Although I was bored silly by
it and think it contains unacceptably poor quality animation,
nevertheless, my son is a testament to the fact that young kids may go
for it regardless.
BALTO is based on a true story. It starts and ends as a live
action film in New York City's Central Park where a Grandmother (Miriam
Margolyes) and her granddaughter are looking for a statue of the real
Balto who was an animal half dog and half wolf who saved many people
during an Alaskan blizzard in 1925. Quickly the movie shifts to a
cartoon version of the tale.
Being a half-breed, Balto (voiced by Kevin Bacon) is not very
popular in the little isolated settlement of Nome, Alaska. His only
friends are his sidekick, a Russian snow goose named Boris (voiced by
Bob Hoskins), as well as two polar bears named Muk and Luk (both voiced
by Phil Collins). He does have a blossoming romance with a pedigreed
husky called Jenna (voiced by Bridget Fonda). This romance is a take
off on the one from LADY AND THE TRAMP, but like most of this highly
derivative movie, it is a pale imitation of the genuine article. Jenna
is being wooed by Steele (voiced by Jim Cummings) who is the current
leader of the sled dogs.
The first part of the movie has Balto upset because he is not a
full blooded dog. Boris reflects that, "He only knows what he is not.
If he could only see what he is." Jenna's owner is a little girl named
Rosy (Juliette Brewer). Rosy gets diphtheria, and as she is "the
eighteenth case this week", the doctor is all out of diphtheria
antitoxin. Planes and boats try to get through to Nome, but as they
are over six hundred miles away in a blizzard, nothing can make it.
Finally, a train goes a little part of the way, but they need a sled
dog team to go six hundred miles to pick up the antitoxin for Rosy and
all of the other now sick inhabitants of the town. The movie is about
Balto's bravery and his clash with Steele who would rather see people
die than Balto get the glory.
Many heroic scenes follow and Balto muses, "since when do you need
a pedigree to help someone". Still he has his doubts, but Boris is
always by his side with words of encouragement like, "Let me tell you
something Balto. A dog can not make this journey alone, but maybe a
So why was I bored with such an inspiring tale of the original
Iditarod sled race? Well, I have three main criticisms of the movie.
First, if you have seen most of the old Disney feature length cartoons,
you will see little new here. Almost every scene is one you will swear
you have seen before. As one of many examples, the sled goes over a
breaking bridge, and Balto has just enough strength to pull the sled up
when the bridge collapses and the sled starts sliding into the canyon.
I have seen scene this many times before.
Second, thanks to poor direction (Simon Wells), the voices have no
life to them. None. Compare this to any Disney film especially to
LADY AND THE TRAMP which this movie most closely resembles. Every
character there came alive with distinctive, interesting, compelling,
and believable voices. Here they speak in dull tones. There is not a
single character that was believable, the worse being Steele.
Moreover, the script (Elana Lesser and Cliff Ruby) has almost no
laughs. One of the few times I heard much laughter in the theater was
when one character hit another with a snowball. Now, if that scene,
which is duplicated in a hundred other movies, is the best the writers
can come up with, you know the movie is in serious trouble.
Third, the animation is pathetic and has a two dimensional stick
figure feel to it. After the recent Disney cartoons (POCAHONTAS, LION
KING, and TOY STORY), the bar has been raised. The quality of the
images here pale (pun intended) in comparison. Let me give some
examples. The colors are all washed out and the characters, see
especially the grizzly bear, are not drawn with sufficient detail and
colors. The cels look like they have been sitting in the son too long
and the color has been bleached out. This was not just some problem
with the print I saw because the live action part was full of rich
colors. Take as another example the lights in the cartoon. Lights in
BALTO are usually done as a ball of light that is bright for two feet
and then the light disappears entirely. There is none of the natural
tapering off of real light. Compare this to the realistic lighting
effects that are common today in feature length cartoons. Finally,
there are a lot of falling snow scenes. None of the animals get even a
speck of snow on them during these snow falls because I guess that
would make them slightly trickier to draw.
BALTO drags on for only 1:14. It is rated G and would not offend
anyone. My son Jeffrey (age 6 1/2) gets frighten easily, but almost
nothing scared him in BALTO except for the brief grizzly bear scene
which was a good excuse for a trip to a local lap. I think BALTO is
fine for kids of any age. My ever agreeable son has given a thumbs up
to all of the 18 different movies we took him to this year, and this
movie was no exception. I can not recommend that anyone waste their
time with BALTO - better to see TOY STORY for a third or fourth time.
Since Jeffrey did like the film and never got scared, since there is
nothing in it to offend anyone in it, and since we are supposed to be
big hearted during the Christmas season, I am most generously awarding
BALTO * 1/2.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes