Director: Simon Wells
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Bob Hoskins, Bridget Fonda, Jim Cummings
Screenplay by: David Steven Cohen, Elana Lesser, Cliff Ruby, Roger S.H. Schulman
Two weeks of animated canines; just like the past weeks of animated mice and the upcoming foray of animated cats (which will be revealed in time). It’s interesting to not only see how these animals are anthropomorphized, but also how different studios go about their different nuances in the process. Bluth focused on dogs being rebellious, gang/mafia-like scumbags and anti-heroes.; Amblin Entertainment, Spielberg’s animation studio prior to Dreamworks, took a different, Disney-like approach, of pure heroes finding themselves among one evil dog, one female dog, and a number of wacky characters.
The real story of Balto is both interesting and boring. There is a real “moment” of bravery when the canine sniffed out the correct trail while the sled-dog team was crossing some very thin ice. Of course, there’s other details; a dog named Togo ran the toughest, longest section of the relay, for example. All the details can be found here. The info is all over the place, though; IMDB needs a trivia editor, stat.
NOSTALGIC LENS: I had only seen this film once. Maybe twice. I never really had much attraction or enjoyment of the film. It seemed generic, before I even knew what generic meant. Perhaps there’s some subtly that I missed when I was younger that will be a bit more apparent on review.
DOES IT HOLD UP: Meh. Balto is among so many specific-of-its-time 90s films where its conventions and clichés are obvious and apparent. Hell, it’s even book-ended with live-action. Mostly everything and everyone is predictable. And yet, in the 90s, the art of telling the story, no matter how familiar, was so well-defined and refined, that seeing the same general plot rehashed in a different light in little to no way affect the actual enjoyment of the film.
Balto is a half-wolf, half-dog (I think husky but the film never makes it clear) stray who dreams of racing with the actual champion sled-dogs of Nome, Alaska. But his wolf side puts fears and doubts into the humans’ mindset. In addition, Steele, the evil sled dog leader who’s “losing a step,” sabotages every attempt Balto makes to gain their trust. This all happens during a diphtheria outbreak. In the middle of a blizzard, of course.
One of the more awkward issues with a story like this, especially from a writer’s standpoint, is how to rectify the hero’s passion for the “girl” – in this case, a domestic husky named Jenna – and the more grounded necessity to save the day – in this case now, a human girl named Rosie, afflicted with the disease. It comes off that Balto’s desire to get the medicine is less about the outbreak and more about “tappin’ that”. It’s interesting to see how films work that angle. I can’t say this film achieves it one hundred percent, but it does it better than most, especially via the moments when Balto “finds himself”.
The animation is passable; it has a harsh edge to it, which makes the character models kind of boring but really reflects the cold, hard tundra the characters are up against. It’s a nice-looking film, but certainly nothing to sing home about. The voice work is passable; I love this era, when many believed that celebrities could somehow instill their screen-charisma with their voices. Unfortunately, good acting does not equate to good voice work; Kevin Bacon (Balto) and Bridget Fonda (Jenna) do okay, but Jim Cummings as Steele, well, steals the show by strength alone. Cummings has always been one of my favorite voice artists (Billy West is the most talented, but Cummings has a lot of energy, especially as evil characters.) I wish they gave him better dialogue.
The plot follows the usual beats and runs the gamut of wacky moments and intriguing action. Humor is derived from Boris the goose, Muk and Luk (a couple of retarded polar bears), and the sled-dogs. (The raspy-voiced one is actually the best of the entire cast – something about him is very entertaining.) There’s a bear fight. A river breaks apart. Balto and Steele have a “fight”. Nothing new here. In fact, the climax race home is audacious to the point of being silly with the sheer number of “shit” that just happens to make things worse and worse.
Youtube lacks any useful videos, again, so I’ll drop some pictures.
Only thing that’s missing is a pseudo-vision quest.
IN A NUTSHELL: Balto is pretty decent. Nothing too exciting or mind-blowing, but not boring or mediocre, either. It’s pretty much everything you expect it to be. Yeah, I don’t have any else to say here. I’m going to make me a sandwich.
December 21st: A Goofy Movie
December 28th: A Charlie Brown Christmas