“Thank you Balto. I’d have been lost without you.”
Oh this movie. I am really torn on how to review this. There are so many things that are just so not good about this movie, but nostalgia says that I must love it because I liked it as a child. Two conflicting emotions in my brain and I don’t know which one to follow. So I’m just going to write. This is going to be interesting.
In the review for Anastasia, I mentioned how much I hate movies that just aren’t historically correct. Well… this is kinda the movie I was talking about. To me, this is honestly the first one that comes to mind. Sure, I’m sure there’s some war movies or some dramas that aren’t historically correct (and I will definitely get to those), but this was the first thing that popped into my head.
Ok, time to get this out: BALTO WAS NOT A HALF BREED. HE WAS NOT PART WOLF. HE WAS A PUREBRED SIBERIAN HUSKY WHO WAS ALREADY PART OF A SLED TEAM. Ok. This is my biggest qualm about this movie. I don’t even want to know the conversation that led to this idea. It probably went like this:
Movie Studio Exec: “oh, let’s do a story about the iditarod and the diphtheria outbreak in Nome.”
Screenwriter: “Yeah it’s a good idea, but there’s no drama. There’s no story there. Especially if we want to make this a kids movie with talking dogs. We need to compete with Disney.”
Movie Studio Exec: “hmm… wait! What if we make balto part wolf?”
Screenwriter: “But he wasn’t part wolf…”
Movie Studio Exec: “So? Think about it! We can make him an outcast, we can give him funny sidekicks. We have have him overcome his own lack of self confidence and be a hero in the end! It will be perfect!!”
*face palm* I’m sure this is why they did it. They had to be marketable, and in 1995, the biggest competition was Disney. Everyone was trying to be like them. Everyone had talking animals and sidekicks and songs (ok this movie doesn’t have any songs, which is honestly incredibly refreshing). But why do this?? There’s probably a whole generation of kids who are now adults that seriously think this is what happened!! Either that or something very similar. That Balto was a wolf dog who led the anti-toxin from Nenana to Nome. SO. NOT. TRUE. It’s almost as if the movie wants you to think it was true also with the way it’s framed. It starts out live action with a grandmother and granddaughter trying to find the statue of Balto in Central Park. She tells the story… AS IF ITS ENTIRELY TRUE. UGH.
Let’s have a little history lesson about what really happened, shall we? In the winter of 1925, the village of Nome, Alaska had an outbreak of Diphtheria, which affected many children, especially the Alaskan Natives who had no immunity (yeah, try to find what looks like an Alaska Native in the movie…). Anchorage shipped by rail the antitoxin from Seward to Nenana, where the first of 20 mushers picked it up. That’s right. More than 20 mushers and over 100 dogs ran the antitoxin from Nenana to Nome. Not just one team like in the movie. The route was 674 miles. No wonder the dogs in the movie needed someone to rescue them!
Balto was the lead dog in the last relay team, led by musher Gunnar Kaasen. He was the one who brought the medicine to the town, but many people believe the true heroes were Leonhard Seppala and his dog team, led by Togo. They did the most treacherous part of the trek. But no… history remembers the dog who brought the medicine the last leg of the journey.
I don’t even want to tell you what happened to Balto after he became a celebrity. It’s honestly too sad to even explain. But eventually he died and his remains were mounted. Yes, you can go to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and see the dog in all his glory (side note: Togo’s remains are in Alaska. I saw those when I was a kid…). And one thing you will notice is that Balto is certainly not part wolf. Does this look part wolf to you??
Ok, now to get on to the movie. My one giant qualm out of the way, let’s try to see this movie for what it is: a fairy tale and disney wannabe. It’s ok, I guess. The main band of characters is pretty well developed. They actually did a good job developing Balto as being half-wolf, and it plays pretty well into the story. Jenna, his love interest, is kinda blah boring, but I guess she serves her purpose because Balto wants nothing more but to impress her. Boris the goose is funny I guess. Muk and Luk the polar bears are there to add funny stuff for the kids, and to be honest I do find myself laughing a lot during this movie. It is a funny kids movie, but there are lines that I’ve picked up now as an adult that went way over my head before.
There are a ton of random characters and it honestly seems like too many. Some of them may only have one or two lines, so it’s almost like why introduce them at all? There’s two female dogs that are sort of friends with Jenna…. I don’t really know what more to say. The villain, Steele, is a selfish, typical stupid man. Sure he’s evil, but he didn’t really do much for me. He has some sidekicks named Nikki, Kaltag and Starr, and still to this day I can’t figure out which is which. What I do like about these three is that they’re really not his sidekicks. They actually can’t stand the guy, but only join in on making fun of Balto because they feel like they have to.
The human characters are also super bland. The parents of the little girl rosie who gets sick are just there, as is the doctor and the other random people. Now I get it that this is supposed to be from Balto’s perspective, but like I said before, It’s actually being told by *spoilers* the now grown-up Rosie. Maybe it’s what she thought was going on as she lay in bed incredibly sick. If that’s the case, this movie is a bit more brilliant than I gave it credit for. If that’s the case, then any plot points that I might have had a qualm about I shouldn’t, because it was all in the head of an incredibly sick, dying little girl. A dying girl who saw her dog Jenna liked Balto. But could that be what they were going for? I have no idea… It’s just a thought.
So I have lots of issues with this movie. The plot is not true and the characters are kinda bland, save our quartet. So what in the world could I possibly have to say that’s good about this movie? It is entertaining. It really is. I don’t know if this is nostalgia talking when I watch it or what, but this movie really is entertaining. There’s adventure, there’s romance, there’s laughter, there’s hardship. There are scenes that stick with me even today. Scenes that are so good that they almost make up for all the shit.
One of them is in the beginning. Balto and Jenna have gone under the floorboards of the hospital because Rosie got checked in and Jenna wants to know what’s wrong. She’s complaining how nasty and dirty it is, and Balto tells her to look at the glass half full. He then proceeds to make an analogy, using broken bottles and the light from above the floorboards for the polar ice caps and the sun to suddenly show the northern lights on the wall. That is so creative!! It’s just so good! For whatever reason, that scene really stuck with me.
The other scene is later when Balto has the antitoxin and just fell off a cliff (yeah, I know…). He has to come to terms with his wolf side and realize that he does have the courage to do this and not give up. A white wolf comes to him (whether or not this is a figment of his imagination I still don’t really know) and encourages him to keep going. As the wolf walks away, he places his foot in the wolf’s footprint and it matches. Again, don’t know why this stuck with me, but it’s just good. It’s like proof that he can do whatever he puts his mind to, and I think that’s cool.
So what do I do with this movie? Where do I put it on a 1-5 scale? I’m seriously torn. I do recommend seeing this movie, especially if you have kids, because it is fun. It’s funny, and your kids will probably love it. What I would probably do is make some sort of theme with it and tell them the real story about the antitoxin run so that they know that this movie is more of a fairy tale. I think history and stories like this are really important, because they’re good points in history. It’s a story that really did have a happy ending and really did have heroes. They just weren’t part wolf…
I guess I give Balto (1995) 3 out of 5 stars. I really can’t bring myself to give it a lower grade, even if I have my qualms with it. Blame nostalgia.
Up Next: A Chipmunk Adventure