Friday, June 22, 2007

Movie Musings: Balto

(Modeled by Brigit, who is spending the week with us while Dad is in Tennessee for work.)

by Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment
ISBN: 0783218575
Length: 1 hour and 18 minutes
Published: 1996

A Mixed Race Hero
"A dog cannot do it alone, but a wolf can."
The theme of this movie is not Alaska. It is not about enduring harsh landscapes using strength and sense. Balto is all about being of mixed race. Yes, there are close encounters with sharp icicles, avalanches, and frozen water. But really, this could be set anywhere. The characters might as well be walking through grass. The feeling of Nome as a far away and inaccessible place is done well, but the landscape is otherwise unimportant.

Balto's mother was a dog and his father was a wolf. Balto gets a lot of crap for this from the townspeople. Mostly, he is set-up by Steele, a nasty but competent sled dog. Steele takes some sausages from the butcher, then when he hears people coming he throws them over to where Balto is standing. Steele is a good dog for catching Balto at stealing, and the butcher basically says, "Well what can you expect? He's part wolf." Variations of this happen over and over throughout the movie. Balto is a great guy - nice, compassionate, and energetic. He is alternately defiant and depressed when his mixed race is constantly flung in his face as a bad thing.

If Mike and I decide someday to make our small effort to keep the world from turning into an Ideocracy by passing on our okay genes, then I will show this movie to our progeny. And I will talk about how being different is wonderful and beautiful.

Overtly Sexual Comments, that will probably only register with adults
"Hey Balto, I've got a message for your mother: Awooooooooooooooo!"
Steele is calling Balto's mom a slut. And not only is she a slut, but she does it with wolves!

Annoying sidekicks
"I'm getting people bumps."
Boris the Russian snow goose is almost as bad as Aladdin's Iago. The two polar bears, Muk and Luk, are boring and easy to ignore. But Boris is there to make us laugh. And as you might expect in a movie about children severely ill with diphtheria, all of his jokes fall flat.

Real World Bookends
"Come on, Grandma Carrie!"
When the animated portion ends and we return to the memorial in New York, we are hit with the harsh realization that Balto, Jenna, and most of the people that lived in Nome are now dead. Why? Because the little girl is now an old woman. Yes. They killed off everyone (except for Carrie) that we had been rooting for or scowling at during this movie in a moment. Gone. Most adult movies aren't that harsh.

Fashion Realizations

  • A tasteful red shawl makes a lady dog look very elegant. Jenna is the Audrey Hepburn of animated canines.

  • Musher hats never go out of style.

Overall: Rent it for yourself, buy it for your kids. Not much Alaska goodness, but the other strangenesses make up for it.

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