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Juuchan17's Review of Balto II: Wolf Quest

rated it: posted: Aug 06, 2013
Reviews: 157 | World Class Animation Critic
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[NOTE: This is a re-vamped review, as my opinions over time have changed since the previous review that was posted nearly 10 years ago. Be warned, this will get lengthy.

Also, POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD! Just a quick heads-up if you haven't seen it yet... but you should have seen it by now.]

When I first learned of a sequel to one of my favorite movies back in 2001, I will admit that I was feeling pretty excited. I loved "Balto" and the history it was based on, so being an avid fangirl of the series, I honestly wanted more. Once 2002 came around and the DVD came out, I finally got a chance to see it... and I hate to admit that I had some strong disliking to it, mostly of the plot and the animation. However, the more I watched it since then, the more my opinions have changed... surprisingly for the better!

And now I'd like to explain to you why... but first, the plot!

The plot is typical-sequel mush: Balto and Jenna welcome a litter of six puppies, but one of these pups is obviously not like the others. The different pup, Aleu, ends up without a human family, and after a near-death experience with a hunter, she runs away from home after learning about how she looks wild like a wolf... and like her father's maternal side. Thus begins a journey of her finding her place in the world, away from the ever watchful eyes of her overprotective father.

Oh, and Balto's been having nightmares about running on ice, seeing eye-glowing wolves in a pack and having a raven chasing after him.

Does this little tidbit have anything to do with his daughter's plot of self-discovery?

Spoiler answer: YES. Most definitely yes.
Non-Spoiler answer: Eh, sorta...? But not until after Aleu runs away.

Being a sequel, the animation is sub-par and obviously outsourced. The backgrounds and many of the imagery used in later songs are actually the best visual stuff in the movie. There are goofs and flaws aplenty, though. Marking mistakes, coloring mistakes, just awkward-looking movements and walks... the list goes on. It's not going to be first-movie good animation-wise, but is it the worst animation I've seen for a DTV sequel? Oh, heck no! There's even some obvious CGI usage [mainly for a totem pole and some other images], and it's not bad... but it could have been rendered better to that it didn't stick out like a sore thumb. Still, it's passable to me.

The character designs are actually nice, especially for Aleu. I think her markings were supposed to be a shout-out to Balto's original design in the first movie [check out Balto Source or Google "balto storyboards" to see what I mean], because really... she looks like Balto was supposed to look! I just have to gush about that since that would be a good thing to know if it was proven to be true! I can't say the same for her siblings though, because half of them are nothing more than Jenna-clones, one is a red, less-scruffy version of her [Aleu], and the last is the most unique... and we learn nothing about any of them [except for names of two of the pups in the end credits and one in the next movie; what about the other two?]. It's a shame, really... but at least one of them gets some exploration in the next movie [not as much as Aleu does in this movie, but...]! Also, Balto's eyes are white [which, if you watched the first movie, should be yellow]. Just one major flaw that I am willing to gripe about.

The story is very standard for a sequel too - spawn of main coupling from the first movie [in this case, Aleu - not her siblings... well, not until one of the Jenna-clones gets a co-starring role in the third film... but I'm getting ahead of myself] runs away from home to a life that their parents are keeping from them, and in the end, the spawn returns home, learning an important lesson that changes them and accepting their old life and what they learned on their discovery-journey. "Wolf Quest" follows this formula to a point... but then twists it. If you don't believe me, watch the film again, and you'll understand... especially the last 15 mins. I swear I have to give the writer props for surprising me with how the movie ended; I expected one ending... but got something else that I ended up satisfied with after multiple viewings. Props, you guys. Total props. Also, there's the box the puppies were in during a early scene and an awkward line that Balto says to a group of wolves near the end - thank you for those little shout-outs, movie! I knew that the writer still watched the first movie somehow!

FYI: This movie was written by Dev Ross, a writer for Disney's first DTV sequel ["The Return of Jafar", which is actually good, if you think about who it's really about] and the first three Land Before Time sequels [which I also consider as... better than the later ones]. Just letting you know who wrote this.

Character-wise, the old characters from the first movie are quite... dull. Given that it's not from the original writers, it's bound to be quite off. Just watch the Land Before Time sequels or most other Disney sequels to see what I mean [given who we have as the writer... *ahem*] or wait until the third Balto movie... but again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Balto is somehow still living like an outcast, despite being called a hero by the end of his namesake film and this taking place a little time after the ending. He's also still teased for being part-wolf [ahem... you mean, HALF-wolf, right? Honestly, the movie keeps the 'part-wolf' thing all throughout. What gives?], and he's ashamed of revealing his wild heritage to Aleu until after she's nearly killed. Some 'Father of the Year' you are, Balto. He's very boring here, at least until he actually chooses to go out and find her after realizing he waited too long to tell her [naw, really?]. I will say that I like the choice of Maurice LaMarche for his voice. He's no Kevin Bacon, but he adds a gruff feel to the half-wild hero. It took me some time to like it, but it works to make him sound more like he has aged and matured since the last film [though I'd probably blame becoming a dad and lacking good night's sleep for the aging part].

Jenna, voiced by Ariel herself [Jodi Benson], is downgraded to 'typical sequel spouse, left to wait at home'. She does nothing... and even when she offers to join Balto in his search for THEIR child, she is stopped. TWICE. Why, movie, why? This would have been a perfect opportunity for a family adventure, but they probably left her in Nome because she's not wolf enough or some stupid plot-purposed reason like that. Still... that was a major blow, especially after the first movie where she actually did something that HELPED Balto in the end. Again, I'm getting ahead of myself; I'll save the rest for my revamped "Balto" review. At least she sounds good, I'll give her that much... but she really should have done more story-wise than just giving Balto some heirs.

Boris, now voiced by Roger Rabbit [Charles Fleischer], is a bit more of a knowledgeable goose than before when it comes to Balto's dreams and with raising Aleu, though he is downgraded to 'puppy-sitter' and 'Aleu's chew toy'. The polar bears, Muk and Luk [now voiced by Timon... from the Timon/Pumbaa TV series, Kevin Schon] are simply pointless balls of fluff for Aleu to playfully pounce on. Again, they do a little bit and are soon gone from the plot about 30 minutes in. Again, they don't sound bad here.

However, this is Aleu's movie [despite Balto's name in the title from the get-go] and the film focuses on her, developing her character as time goes on. She starts out cute and adorable, then turns whiny, stupidly-naive and stubborn [Like father, like daughter? Oh yes on the stubborn part.], and suddenly just matures as the plot nears the climax. Her voice gets annoying at times, and that's a given when it's Eliza Thornberry at her squeakiest. Yes, Lacey Chabert is our female lead. I will admit that it grows on you by the end, and she doesn't completely suck as Aleu. She makes her curious and very child-like, though you can hear the seriousness in her tone once she gets into the subplot at the end---

Wait, I didn't explain the subplot? Huh.

Well, this subplot gets into the actual 'Wolf Quest' of "Wolf Quest". I won't go into deep detail, but it actually has wolves and a couple of interesting new characters that Aleu and Balto encounter. If you listen [and in some places, look] carefully during the two other songs ["Who You Really Are" and "The Grand Design"], it helps explain the subplot well enough that you might figure out the ending. I didn't catch it until much later, but I think the subtle addition of these little hints just works if you notice them.

Speaking of the songs, they are actually really good here. The first song - and perhaps the theme to our main character, Aleu, and the movie itself - "Taking You Home", is just a simple, soft song that we first hear at the pivotal scene when Balto and Jenna watch their puppies receive new owners and a new family. It's a touching scene, one that I'll admit I shed a tear to, especially at the end when puppy!Aleu is waving goodbye to the last Jenna-clone puppy that was chosen, not realizing what we all know: that she'll never be chosen herself. That is seriously deep... and quite sad, if you think about it. The song's melody comes up again at another pivotal moment at the end [I cried then too], and the song is repeated during the end credits, easily making this a major theme overall.

The second song, "Who You Really Are", is sung by Muru [voiced by Peter MacNicol, sung by Rob Paulsen, who sings amazingly high here. I am just... amazed, seriously.] to a confused and lost Aleu. It's a beautiful chant-like tune, one that has colorful images to boot and a driving force to kick Aleu's quest into high gear.

The final song, "The Grand Design", is one that two wolves 'sing' [though they are more talking than singing; a chorus does actually sing in the song, but this is more focused on the two lead voices]. One wolf, Nava [voiced by the late David Carradine], sings basically that things change naturally and 'we' [the royal 'we', mind you] are all a part of a bigger purpose, a grand design; the other wolf, Niju [voiced by Mark Hamill], is the closest thing to an antagonist and rebels against change, saying that 'we are the masters of our own design', the masters of our own destinies and future by the choices we make. For a short song-speak near the movie's climatic finale, this is actually a deep message for a kid's movie, and for a sequel at that! It really is a great set-up for concluding the plot and the subplot as well.

The music is wonderful too, using Inuit themes and instruments to set the tone for mysticism and adventure. It's nice to hear something different that really fits the story and the atmosphere, as this story is very much like a mystic journey for our main wolf-dogs - a vision quest... or as the subtitle says, a 'wolf quest'. It's not trying to be a new-age sort of thing, though it feels like it is, but... it just works with the wild scenery, all the Inuit and lupine symbolism and the characters themselves, as well as the basic journeys that the story focuses on.

Overall, this looks like a crappy follow-up to a theatrical release film... but if you look beyond the animation flaws and character development failures throughout, you'll find a tale of learning one's heritage and the self-discovery journey between a father and his daughter that really is something good for the whole family to enjoy.

I would be biased as a Balto fan if I said this was my favorite movie in the Balto trilogy, but it actually is the truth: "Balto II: Wolf Quest" is by far the best movie in the series. I once disliked it for the flaws but loved the main heroine, but now, I love it all, flaws and everything. I can't give it the full 4 stars though, as it does still have noticeable flaws that hurt the relationship and the characters, but it's not terrible enough for a three, not like my original review.

So, the score gets an extra half-star for being more than what I expected it to be. Howl on, "Wolf Quest".

MY 'NEW' RATING: 3.5 STARS

animated cartoon Balto II: Wolf Quest © Universal
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