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Western Animation: Balto

"A dog cannot make this journey alone... but maybe a wolf can."

Balto is a 1995 animated movie produced by Steven Spielberg's animation studio, Amblimation, based loosely on a real sled run from 1925.

A large amount of children are sick in Nome, Alaska. The only way to get medicine is through a team of sled dogs. When the capable but completely self-absorbed lead dog, Steele (voiced by Jim Cummings), gets his team lost, saving the town falls on the shoulders (so to speak) of a half-dog, half-wolf named Balto (voiced by Kevin Bacon). He's accompanied by a Russian goose named Boris (voiced by Bob Hoskins), a female dog named Jenna (voiced by Bridget Fonda), and two hydrophobic polar bears named Luk and Muk (voiced by Phil Collins).

The movie wasn't a big success in the box office. It earned $11,348,324 in the United States market, the 106th most successful film of its year. But it more than covered its small budget and sold decently at VHS. It spawned two Direct-to-Video sequels nonetheless: Balto II: Wolf Quest (2002) and Balto III: Wings of Change (2004).


Tropes:

  • Acrophobic Bird: Boris is rarely seen flying, even when it would be helpful to do so. In the third film it's finally explained that he is a literal acrophobic bird.
  • Action Girl: Jenna in the first film. She attacks a bear to protect Balto. She is willing to go out and help Balto find Aleu in the second film, but Boris stops her because Balto and Aleu need to work out their issues on their own. She doesn't do anything action-related in the third film, but that may be because she thought Kodi would be going with Balto that time.
    • Aleu in the second film.
  • Adapted Out: As mentioned below, Togo was a (if not the) major player in the actual event but is nowhere in the movie.
  • Adorkable: Star from the first movie. So very much.
  • Adult Fear: All of the children in a town far from any near civilization are infected with a deadly disease, and their only chance is a sleigh team that may or may not make it back in time with the medicine. What's worse is that this was based on a true story.note 
    • The scene where Balto finds the woodcarver making children-sized coffins really hits it home.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Luk and Muk dispense licks to Balto and Boris at several points in the movie.
  • All of the Other Reindeer:
    • Most of the local dogs', as well as the humans', opinion of Balto, because he's part wolf.
    • Some dogs still bully him in the second film (offscreen), showing not everyone is quick to give up on it. However, most humans still treat him well. It seems all the bullying has worn off between movies.
      • Truth in Television, at least on the part of the humans. Wolf-dog hybrids tend to be aggressive, and most should not not be allowed around children unsupervised, if at all.
  • Alternate Animal Affection
  • ...And That Little Girl Was Me: The Framing Device for the movie is a grandmother telling her granddaughter the story of Balto while searching for Balto's statue in Central Park. At the end of the movie, they find the statue, and the grandmother says to it, "Thank you, Balto. I would've been lost without you," revealing that she was the same "Rosie" from the story.
  • Animal Talk: The humans can't understand the animals, but the dogs can understand English perfectly well. Among the animal cast, Muk is generally the only one who can understand his brother Luk's mumbling, but Boris finds, to his dismay, that he's beginning to learn it himself.
    Boris: Oh NO! I'M BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND THE BEAR!
  • Anti-Sneeze Finger: Nikki does this to Star to prevent triggering a cave-in. (His previous sneeze having caused an avalanche.) Unlike most other examples, it actually stops the sneeze permanently instead of resulting in a giant sneeze when the finger is removed. Not that it matters much since the cave-in is soon afterward triggered by another sound.
  • Artistic License - Biology: The film depicts the grizzly bear as a large monstrous beast while the polar bears Luk and Muk are a harmless and friendly comic duo. In reality, polar bears not only grow to be much bigger in size than grizzlies but they are also known to be amongst the most aggressive predators of all bear species. It is somewhat justified considering they're still cubs.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority:
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption
  • Award Bait Song: "Reach for the Light". Co-composed by James Horner, no less!
  • Bears Are Bad News:
    • Balto gets attacked by a giant grizzly at one point. Averted with Muk and Luk, though they still manage to be a handfull sometimes for Boris.
    • There's another one in the sequel who attacks Balto and Aleu until they escape by jumping off a cliff to a lower ledge. But its actually a spirit meant to help them get on the right path.
  • Beary Funny: Muk and Luk.
  • Big Bad: Steele in the first film and Niju in the second. Wings of Change didn't really have a true villain.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Balto pulls this in the first movie to rescue Steele's team. In the third film, Kodi and his sled team pull this to save Balto and Duke from falling off a cliff.
    • Jenna pulls this in the first film. She attacks the bear about to kill Balto and saves his life.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Balto and Boris have fairly bushy brows. In Wolf Quest, Nava's are positively enormous.
  • Butt Monkey: Star. If the poor pup so much as opens his mouth, he WILL get hurt, be it the other dogs or even inanimate objects. Except for his final scene at the end.
    • Boris also suffers more than his fair share of slapstick, as do the polar bears.
  • Call Back: The White Wolf from the first film reappears in the second. Turns out she's actually Balto's mother and spirit guide Aniu.
    • According to Word of God, the white wolf in the first movie is not meant to be Balto's mother. That was merely something the people behind the sequel came up with.
    • The third movie has even more callbacks to the first: several characters, including Rosie, Kaltag and Star, are given small cameos; in one scene, dogs listen in on an important human conversation through a floor grate; in another, the mail team is shown hanging out in the same saw mill used as a gathering place in the first film. It also calls back to Wolf Quest in a flashback to Kodi's puphood, giving Aleu and their other siblings some screen time.
  • Cartoony Tail: Balto has the common, taper off-to-a-point variety.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Steele, eventually.
  • The Chosen One: In Wolf Quest, Nava says that Aniu told him "the one who is wolf but does not know" would lead the pack to new land. Everyone assumes this means Balto, but it's actually his daughter, Aleu, who only learned about her heritage a day or so prior.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: A vixen (played by Mary Kay Bergman in her last film role) appears in the second film and tricks Balto into releasing her from a trap, then throws him off a log into a river. However, she does so to help him find Aleu's scent and is actually a spirit. Its even implied she's actually a form assumed by Aniu.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Boris.
  • Determinator: Both the animated and real Balto.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: "Who You Really Are" seems quite trippy to some degree. Starts out as just lights coming from a crystal, then pictures start moving a voices start talking to Aleu that she can actually hear. Justified as it is supposed to be a spiritual vision for Aleu.
  • Disney Villain Death: Subverted. Steele accidentally causes himself to fall off a very high cliff while fighting with Balto but survives likely due to hitting several ledges on the way down instead of a sheer drop. Balto also suffers a subverted one later, surviving due to deep snow.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Balto earns his big time. He started the movie the hated outcast who was constantly being chased away from the one he loved, with the movie's Jerkass Big Bad trying to ruin his life, and being unable to accept himself as a dog or a wolf. He has to go on an epic adventure through a blizzard, facing horrible danger at every single turn, and ultimately getting the tar beaten out of him by Steele, but in the end, he saves the entire town and is honored as a hero. On top of that, he finally accepts what he is and manages to get the love of his life. Sure, the next film shows there are some dogs who still make fun of him for his wolf half, but his life is a lot happier than it was.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Steele, he's actually the Big Bad.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence:
    • The bear attack nearly leaves Balto dead.
    • Steele's beatdown of Balto after suffering from the 'get extremely violent' form of Villainous Breakdown.
  • Fatal Flaw: Steele's pride and wrath, both of which ultimately completely ruin him.
  • Feather Fingers: Boris, and later Stella.
  • Fee Fi Faux Pas: Boris tells Balto "You will die like a dog! Ooh... no offense..." while trying to talk him out of going after Steele and his team.
  • Find the Cure
  • Full Name Ultimatum: Jenna calls Kodi his full name, Kodiak , when he allows his father to go out on his own to save Duke. Though it's not so much she's blaming him for that but that he doesn't care about someone's life. What's worse is its directly in front of his friends.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: After the fight with the bear, Jenna is revealed to have injured her leg in the fight and can't continue, despite having been running just before. Justified, though, as Balto had nearly drowned, and in real life someone's adrenaline would've kept them from succumbing to the pain right away.
  • Gender Equals Breed: Averted. According to the sequel, it's Balto's mother who was a wolf. (As mentioned above however, the sequels are more or less considered non-canon to the original film.)
    • Furthermore, all of his and Jenna's pups except one looks like Jenna, regardless their breed. The only one looking like Balto is female.
  • Glory Hound: Steele, literally. Jenna even calls him one at a certain point.
  • Glowing Eyes: Aleu's Psychic Powers cause her eyes to glow yellow when they activate.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: After Steele realizes Jenna's falling for Balto, his dislike for him grows from simple bullying to pure hatred.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Boris.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Balto is picked on by the other dogs for being part wolf.
  • Happily Adopted: Balto was raised by Boris the goose, and is just fine with that.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: A canine example here; Balto's love interest, and later mate, Jenna, has red fur.
  • Heroic Dog
  • Heroic Resolve: Balto gets this when he realizes that he should be proud of his wolf half and it allows him to pull the medicine all the way up the cliff he fell down to safety.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: While it only defeats him temporarily, Steele attempts to pull Balto over a cliff by pulling at Jenna's bandana around his neck, but ends up falling himself when it loosens.
  • Hourglass Plot
  • Humiliation Conga: Steele gets one near the closing of the first film. He ends up getting lost in a blizzard and having the very dog he's spent the entire movie tormenting coming to try and save him. He then loses the fight without Balto attacking once, falling off a cliff. When he gets back to Nome and tries to lie to everyone, the one female in town he actually wants sees straight through his lies and calls him out on it. While he does get a small break from it, when Balto returns it really kicks in. He instantly gets a mass Death Glare from every dog in Nome, the dog who'd been trying to get his attention the entire movie slaps him in the face, he's reduced to a hated outcast by all those who'd looked up to him throughout the movie, and to top it all off, the one he hates most is now the town hero. A deleted scene would've carried this a tad forwards where the dog on the sled team he'd treated worst told him off and tore his prized Golden Collar off.
  • Ill Girl: Rosie, as well as many other children in Nome.
  • "I Am" Song: Inverted. Muru and several other spirits sing a song to Aleu called "Who You Really Are". Instead of telling her who she is, it asks her try to find that out herself.
  • I Am What I Am:
    • Only when Balto learns to embrace his wolf heritage does he realize there is nothing he can't do.
    • Aleu has to find out the same thing in the sequel. Must run in the family.
  • I Can Explain: Bye, Steele. No one's listening to you anymore, you liar.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: The kids in town get diphtheria. The trope is slightly subverted because most of them survive. The cough is actually a real symptom of Diphtheria, caused by toxin and fluid filling the lungs.
  • Irony: At the beginning of the film, Steele was the town hero and Balto the hated outcast. At the end of the film, Balto is the town hero and loved by everyone while Steele, due to his own lies, is now the hated outcast.
  • Ironic Fear: Muk and Luk are afraid of the water. They mention that it's the reason they are shunned by the other polar bears.
    • Even more funny is that while they are still cubs, they are utterly terrified of the grizzly bear that attacks them halfway through the first movie. In reality polar bears grow up to be much larger than grizzlies and are far more aggressive.
  • It's All About Me: Steele. Jenna sums it up best talking with Dixie:
    Dixie: Do you think Steele will notice?
    Jenna: I'm afraid the only way Steele will notice anyone is if they're wearing a mirror.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Although Balto himself obviously isn't going to hurt anyone (and the real Balto was a full blooded Siberian Husky, so this wouldn't have been an issue), in Real Life, some of the human's reactions to Balto would not be entirely unfounded. He's a stray wolf-dog, and in real life, despite what wolfdog enthusiasts will claim, wolf-dog hybrids are unpredictable at best, and at worst, dangerous. A stray that hasn't been trained would never be allowed to work with sled dogs, simply because it wouldn't be safe. Yes, there are exceptions, but concerned parents do not leave children with a potentially dangerous animal on the off chance it might be one of the friendly ones.
  • Kick the Dog: Literally.
  • Large Ham: Steele. But then, it's Jim Cummings - no one expected otherwise.
    • Star can also be pretty expressive when he wants to.
    • As can Boris and the polar bears.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: By Humiliation Conga, Steele's defeat is directly brought about by his own actions. Had he just helped Balto get back to Nome, he'd have gotten fame (Balto would've gotten more, but he still would have received fame nonetheless), but by betraying and lying to the entire town, he ended up becoming a hated outcast.
  • Last-Second Chance: At the final of the second film, Balto gives Niju one last chance to do the right thing and lead the pack to safety. He's ultimately too afraid to do so and flees back to his old home.
  • Liminal Being: Balto is both a wolf and a dog, or, from another point of view, neither.
  • Mala Proper: Dixie, especially when she wants to impress Steele.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Steele, again.
  • Mr. Exposition: Muru serves as this to Aleu, telling her about spirit guides and that she'll have to go on a quest to find herself. He even explains the song he's about to sing is part of a spirit guides job. Justified because he is her spirit guide and its kind of his job.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Seems to be part of Steele's motivation at the end. When he returns to town after he sabotages the return of the sled team, he tells Jenna that Balto is dead, and made him promise to take care of her before he died. Even returning her bandana she had given Balto, and that Steele had torn off in rage, as proof. She sees right through him.
  • Nice Guy: Balto himself.
  • Noble Wolf / Savage Wolves: Balto is the first one but his problems are caused by the second one. The townfolk believe him to be dangerous ("He might bite you, honey. He's part wolf.") when he's truly a Nice Guy and a loyal friend.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Balto suffers one from Steele after his Villainous Breakdown. Justified as Balto refuses to fight out of fear of destroying the anti-toxin.
  • The Obi-Wan: Believe it or not, Boris the goose. He imparts words of wisdom to Balto that become vital in his moment of need.
  • Official Couple:
    • Balto and Jenna, of course. The sequels focus on two of their offspring.
    • Ralph and Dusty from the third movie were intended to be this, but they didn't have time to put more scenes exploring it in.
  • Pale Females, Dark Males: Aleu the female wolf/dog hybrid from Balto II: Wolf Quest has lighter fur than Balto the male wolf/dog hybrid.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Psychic Powers: Aleu from the sequel turns out to have these. She can read minds and see the future, though she has no idea how to actively use them.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: Nikki, Kaltag and Star in the first movie. Nuk, Yak and Sumac in the 2nd. Both squads get better.
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Star from the first movie.
  • Rule of Drama: The reason Balto is a wolfdog in the movie while he was a purebred siberian husky in real life: the creators wanted to give him an inner turmoil.
    • As mentioned above, both adults and children where infected in the real event, but the film changes it to only children to play more on Adult Fear.
  • Running Gag: Star finishing Kaltag's sentences and getting punched for it. At one point he sees what's coming and punches himself before Kaltag gets to it.
    • Running Gagged: Comes in at the end where he finishes Kaltag's admiration speech of Balto by adding "We should make a statue of him!" Cue Kaltag looking like he's about to punch him as usual, making Star cower, but then he smiles and says "...you said it."
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: Boris the Russian snow goose has the Butt Monkey status in this film.
  • Sarcastic Devotee: Boris again, to Balto.
  • Scared of What's Behind You: When Boris is lecturing the polar bears, he thinks he's getting through to them when they start looking afraid... then he bumps in the huge grizzly bear that had been the real source of their fear.
  • Scenery Porn: Basically all of Alaska, and also the scene where some of the medicine breaks onto the ice and scatters golden serum everywhere.
  • Shapeshifter: Aniu in the second film, due to being a spirit.
  • Shout-Out: In the ice cave, Star ends up looking through a bunch of iciciles that distort his features. The last one makes him look like ET, complete with voice.
  • Sneeze of Doom: Star does this in the first film, resulting in an avalanche.
  • Spirit Advisor: According to Muru, this is standard for everyone in their world. Considering he's Aleu's, he's in a position to talk. Balto's mother Aniu is actually his.
  • Talking Animal
  • The Dog Bites Back: A Deleted Scene had Star, the henchman that Steele treated the worst, do this. He tore Steele's collar off (which was a racing prize he'd won) because he didn't deserve it.
  • Those Two Guys: Muk and Luk.
  • Toothy Bird: Boris
  • The Tragic Rose: Rosie, the Ill Girl. Not only does she live to tell the tale, but she's the Narrator All Along.
  • Truth in Television:
    • The movie is based off of an actual sled run in 1925, often called the "Great Race of Mercy", which carried diphtheria antitoxin almost seven hundred miles to stop an epidemic. The real Balto was simply the lead dog on the last sled team, and went through near whiteout conditions. However, the longest and most hazardous run was the third-to-last leg of the relay, led by another dog named Togo, who led his team on a 91-mile journey that included crossing the perilous ice of Norton Sound. Balto's team was the team that arrived in Nome, so they got most of the credit. This is the source of controversy surrounding the serum run and continues to this day by historians and mushers - most mushers today consider Togo to be the true hero of the race but the real Balto really has been immortalized with a statue in Central Park.
    • Also Reality Is Unrealistic in that people assumed the old woman in the beginning of the film (the adult Rosie) couldn't possibly have still been alive in the 90s. The events depicted happened in 1925, so someone who was young like most of the Diptheria patients could have easily still been alive, well into their 70s-90s.
  • Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: Steele's fight with Balto.
  • Two Roads Before You: Aleu gets her choice from Muru, her Spirit Advisor. She can go on a quest and find out who she really is or return home to her normal life. Bonus points for the question being posed in a rather catchy song.
  • Undertaker: Subverted. We're lead to believe that the guy making coffins for the children is one of these, but then it's revealed that he's actually the carpenter that made Rosie's sled earlier in the film. It's quite an effective scene.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: After learning Balto marked the way back to town, Steele intentionally gets the entire dog team lost, potentially dooming all the kids and the other dogs... because Steele was kicked off the team, and couldn't get the glory all to himself.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Balto was a purebred husky who only helped pulling the sleigh the last distance back to Nome. The real hero was another husky named Togo, the runt of his litter who ended up surprising everyone with his strength and intelligence, and who pulled the sleigh for the longest and most hazardous distance until his exhausted self had to let Balto do the finishing miles. Being the one who actually led the sleigh into the town of Nome however, Balto was recognized as a hero more than Togo was.
    • The real Balto was also neutered early in his life. He never fathered any pups, making the sequels pure fiction.
      • He also looked dramatically different from the movie version, being mainly black and much less slender. He looked more like Steele than the movie Balto.
  • Villain Song: Niju, the Big Bad of the sequel, has The Grand Design. Being he's about the only character one actually singing and its rather villainous when viewed from his perspective, it qualifies.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Steele has one when Balto arrives to help the sled team. He was a Smug Snake before this but when Balto arrives, he goes completely out of his mind, trying to kill him, all the while looking completely psychotic. After he loses, he continues to appear insane until he returns to the boiler room and is back to his Smug Snake mode. Its hinted at earlier during several scenes where Steele nearly loses his cool when enraged, this is just the time he actually snaps.
  • Wham Line: "Thank you, Balto. I would have been lost without you."
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Kodi gets one in the third movie when he refuses to go with Balto to save Duke after his plane crashed. Yeah, the guy did almost cost him his job but still. Both Balto and Jenna call him out on it but it takes a Full Name Ultimatum and speech from Jenna in front of his friends to convince him. Kodi later delivers his own speech of the like towards his fellow sled dogs when they refuse to help Duke, declaring he won't be a mail dog if it means letting someone who needs help die.
    • Jenna calls Steele out on his hatred of Balto getting in the way of getting the medicine needed to save the town and what a Glory Hound he is. Though in this case, Steele's just playing the hero and is actually the Big Bad.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Steele has one of these when he gets back to the village alone, acting like Balto attacked him and demanded the medicine. He keeps hamming it up from there.


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alternative title(s): Balto
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