Much as I hate to kick a dog, “Balto” almost begs for abuse.
Based loosely - very loosely - on actual events, this thoroughly plastic animated cartoon recounts the amazing adventures of a heroic hound who risks life and paw across 600 miles of frozen Alaskan landscape to bring diphtheria medicine to Alaskan children in the winter of 1925.
You could think of the film as a twist on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” with Balto, who is shunned by the other dogs for being part-wolf, coming through in the crunch.
It turns out that the dog’s noble feat - known in real life as the Great Race of Mercy - evolved into the world-famous Iditarod dog-sled race. I guess that’s sort of interesting.
And while I’m trying to be positive I should probably add that there’s nothing really offensive about this film. Not unless you count the ridiculous, politically correct sequence in which Balto - apparently a disciple Gandhi - refuses to fight back when an evil dog named Steele attempts to sabotage the medicine-delivery mission.
It’s the picture’s lack of inspiration that puts it in the doghouse. Balto triumphs in that non-fight scene through sheer luck, for example.
Kids, don’t try this with the bullies at home.
An Amblimation production, “Balto” lists Steven Spielberg as an executive producer. Simon Welles (“We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story”) directed, and the character voices include Kevin Bacon as Balto, Jim Cummings as Steele, Bridget Fonda as Balto’s canine girlfriend, Bob Hoskins as Balto’s goose buddy and Phil Collins as a pair of idiot polar bears.
Parents who have already taken the kids to see “Toy Story” a couple of dozen times, and who have also checked out “Jumanji,” might just find themselves stuck with this glorified Saturday-morning mush.
xxxx “Balto” Location: Lincoln Heights and Newport cinemas Credits: Directed by Simon Welles; with character voices by Kevin Bacon as Balto, Jim Cummings as Steele, Bridget Fonda as Balto’s canine girlfriend, Bob Hoskins as Balto’s goose buddy and Phil Collins as a pair of polar bears Running time: 1:14 Rating: G