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Balto

Balto is a 1995 American live-action/animated adventure film directed by Simon Wells, produced by Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures. The film is loosely based on a true story about the dog of the same name who helped save children infected with diphtheria in the 1925 serum run to Nome. The film stars Kevin Bacon, Bridget Fonda, Jim Cummings, Phil Collins (in a dual role) and Bob Hoskins, with Miriam Margolyes in the live-action sequences. The live-action portions of the film were shot in New York City's Central Park.

Plot[]

In New York City, an elderly woman, her granddaughter, and the latter's Siberian Husky, Blaze, are walking through Central Park, looking for a memorial. As they seat themselves for a rest, the woman tells her granddaughter a story about Nome, Alaska 70 years earlier in the winter of 1925, shifting the film from live-action to animation.

Balto, a young wolfdog, lives in rural Nome with a snow goose named Boris Goosinov and two polar bears, Muk and Luk. Being half-wolf, Balto is despised by dogs and humans alike. The only dog and human in town who are kind to him are Jenna and Rosy. He is often bullied by champion sled dog Steele, a fierce and arrogant Malamute, who also likes Jenna.

One evening, all of the children are hospitalized with diphtheria, and Curtis Welch waits to get antitoxin. Severe winter weather conditions prevent medicine from being brought from Juneau by air or sea, and the closest rail line ends in Nenana. A dog race is held to determine the best-fit dogs for a sled dog team to get the medicine. Balto enters and wins, but Steele exposes his wolf half, causing his disqualification. The team departs that night with Steele in the lead and picks up the medicine successfully, but on the way back, they end up stranded at the base of an icy hill, with the musher unconscious.

When this news reaches Nome, Balto sets out in search of them with Boris, Muk and Luk. On the way, they are attacked by a massive grizzly bear, but Jenna, who followed their marked trail, intervenes. The bear pursues Balto out onto a frozen lake, where he falls through the ice and drowns, while Muk and Luk save Balto from a similar fate. However, Jenna has been injured and cannot continue on. Balto instructs Boris and the polar bears to take her home while he continues on his own. Jenna gives him her bandanna to wear. Balto eventually finds the team, but Steele refuses his help out of callousness and attacks Balto, only to fall off a cliff. Balto takes charge of the team, but Steele, refusing to concede defeat, spitefully sabotages Balto's marks and the team loses their way again. While attempting to save the medicine from falling down a cliff, Balto himself falls.

Back in Nome, Jenna is explaining Balto's mission to the other dogs when Steele returns, claiming the entire team, including Balto, is dead, using Jenna's bandanna as fake proof. However, Jenna sees through his lies and insists Balto will return with the medicine. Using a trick Balto showed her earlier, she places broken colored glass bottles on the outskirts of town and shines a lantern on them to simulate the Northern Lights, hoping it will help guide Balto home. When Balto regains consciousness, he is ready to give up hope, but when a polar wolf appears and Balto notices the medicine crate still intact nearby, he realizes that his part-wolf heritage is a strength, not a weakness. Balto rallies his confidence and drags the medicine back up the cliff to the waiting team. Using his highly developed senses, Balto is able to filter out the fake marks Steele created.

After encountering further challenges and losing only one vial, Balto and the sled team finally make it back to Nome. Steele is exposed as a liar, and the other dogs abandon him in anger, and refusing his pleads to explain. Reunited with his friends, Balto earns respect from both the dogs and the humans. He visits a cured Rosy, who thanks him for saving her. Back in the present day, the woman, her granddaughter, and Blaze finally find Balto's memorial, and she explains that Alaska runs the Iditarod dog race over the same path that Balto and his team took. The woman, revealed to be an elderly Rosy, repeats the same line, "Thank you, Balto. I would've been lost without you", before walking off to join her granddaughter and Blaze. The statue of Balto stands proudly in the sunlight.

Production[]

Production and development on Balto began in May 1989 at Universal City Studios and Amblin Entertainment in Universal City, California, along with An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) and We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (1993). Voice-recording sessions took place at The Bridge Facilities in London (now folded into Miloco Studios and renamed The Bridge Writing Studio) between late 1992 and early 1993. Brendan Fraser was originally cast as Steele, because director Simon Wells had envisioned Steele as a school quarterback jock carried away by his sense of importance, and felt that Fraser fitted that personality well. According to Wells, "I liked Brendan a great deal, and we did one recording session with him that was terrific." However, executive producer Steven Spielberg wanted a clearer sense of Steele's "inherent evil", so Fraser was replaced by Jim Cummings. Wells stated that Cummings "did a fantastic job, and totally made the character live, so I don't regret the choice."

After the actors recorded their voices, animating and filming commenced at Amblimation in London on March 1, 1993. To have a source for the dogs' character animation to be based on, the filmmakers brought in about seven Siberian Huskies and videotaped them walking around in the studio. Although most of the film's animation was hand-drawn, the animators used Toonz to improve the graphics, and also created the snowstorms using an early CGI particle animation system. Additional animation was done by the Danish studio A. Film Production. James Horner composed the film's music, including the film's only song, "Reach for the Light", sung by Steve Winwood, which plays over the film's closing credits.

The film's live-action prologue and epilogue segments were filmed in Central Park in Fall 1994. The role as elderly Rosy's granddaughter's husky, Blaze, was played by two light red blue-eyed Siberian Huskies.

Sequel[]

In 2002 a sequel called Balto II: Wolf Quest had already a direct to video release

Sources[]

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