Balto is a half-dog half-wolf, outcast by the people and canines of the only home that he knows. When a dipthetia epidemic hits the children of Nome, it's up to Balto to ensure that the crucial anti-toxin reaches them in time.
The setting is the winter of 1912 in Nome, Alaska. It's a place where dog-sleds are considered creme de la creme, lead by the pedigree champion Steele. On the other end of the spectrum is Balto, half-dog half-wolf who is feared, shunned or just outright bullied by the people and dogs who don't bother to understand him. The only exceptions are Rosie, a sweet little girl, and her dog Jenna, an equally kind-hearted husky.
As these things happen, a diptheria epidemic overtakes the children of Nome, including Rosie. The number of cases is too great, causing the local doctor's anti-toxin supply to run out.
Because of the harsh storms the only chance they have of getting the anti-toxin is by dog sled, lead by none other than the egoistical Steele. Balto wants to help, and even proves his worth in a race set up to choose the fastest dogs, but Steele sabotages Balto's chance, leaving him shunned once again despite Jenna's protests.
Steele and his team head out, and they collect the anti-toxin from Nenana with little problem. It's only on the way back that Steele loses his sense of direction in the wild snow storm, and in the end the team is stranded effectively in the middle of nowhere. When news gets back to Nome about the missing team, Balto decides that he has to go out there and find them, even if no one actually wants his help.
This movie is another one of those pleasant surprises I discovered purely by chance. I knew nothing about the movie or the story when I rented it ages ago, but I fell in love with it anyway. Oh, all right, Balto pretty much manipulates the viewer emotionally, dropping us into the harsh unfairness that is Balto's outcast life, and it hurts so bad... But that's what makes the eventually pay-off so good.
The plot of the story is pretty simple, so they make up for it by littering memorable scenes all over the place, be they hilarious, awe-inspiring or just place heart-wrenching. Whenever I think about movies that give me a tummy ache because of how the story pulls you in, the first example I always come up with is Balto. There are others, yes, but Balto was the first movie I distinctly remember that when I had the movie on LD (laserdisk -- yes, that's how long ago it was when I first saw it) I kept replaying certain scenes over... and over... and over... and never got tired of the little jolt of adrenaline that it'd give me.+ This scene, especially. (SPOILERS!) +
Favourite scene: Balto and the White Wolf
When we last saw Balto, he had fallen off a cliff and had effectively been swallowed by the snow. Here he finally manages to push his way out of the snow, though he isn't looking too good..
After all, he failed.
He's let Rosie down.
As he lies there close to giving up, pale white feet appear in his line of vision.
He looks up and sees a stunning white wolf, gazing down at him and totally unperturbed by the snow storm around them.
|The wolf raises its head and howls magnificently. Then looks back down at Balto, expecting a response in kind.|
Balto turns away from the gesture, as he has done to other wolves before.
The wolf looks at him contemplatively for a moment, but simply walks away.
|Just then Balto spots the box of medicine, still intact at the bottom of the cliff. He realises that there is a chance that he can get the medicine back in time.|
|Balto hears Boris' words in his head. "A dog cannot make this journey alone. But maybe a wolf can."|
|Realising that it's only when he embraces the strength of his wolf side that he will be able to achieve his goal, Balto lifts his head in a wolf howl that pierces the roar of the storm.|
|The white wolf, maybe even a little proud of Balto, joins him in acknowledging the howl.|
Balto is a hero movie that focuses on the underdog (pun not intended). Balto is an unwanted mutt that dreams of being accepted and maybe even loved, but the catch is that he only wants to associate himself with his dog heritage and not his "wild" wolf heritage. Then when he takes the quest it's not because he wants the glory or to show Steele up or even to get people to love him... He just does it because it's the right thing to do. Which is pretty much the biggest difference between him and Steele right there. That he finally does end up being loved is the biggest bonus ever.
Anyway, like I mentioned up there somewhere, the story of Balto is pretty simple, so they make up for that by having a whole lot of individual memorable moments all over the place. There are heart-stopping races, tense confrontations between Balto and Steele, sweet moments between Balto and Jenna (his lady love), funny moments with Boris the sarcastic Russian goose, adorable moments with Muk and Luk the polar bears who can't swim, and awe-inspiring moments of when Balto finally gets his chance to shine. The animation is also surprisingly good for an independent animated movie -- right down to the detail of the individual snow flakes up to the terrifying avalanche. Mix 'em all together in a pot and you get this mesh of pieces that string together into a whole that sparkles like a little underestimated jewel.
It's also interesting that almost all the characters in this movie get their moment of glory. Balto is the hero, yes, but he's not the only one, and that somehow makes it more awesome. Jenna bravely attacks a bear to save her friends, Muk and Luk overcome their fear of water, even the rest of the dog team that shunned Balto realise their mistake and welcome him into the team. Though my personal favourites are Muk and Luk, whom I want to squish into itty bitty pieces. A surprising revelation (to myself, at least) was that they were both voiced by singer Phil Collins, like whoa. Hee!
All in all, lovely movie. I still pimp it wherever I go.