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Juuchan17's Review of Balto III: Wings of Change

rated it: posted: Aug 08, 2013
Reviews: 157 | World Class Animation Critic
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[NOTE: This is a re-revamped review, as my opinions over time have changed since my first review that was posted nearly 8 years ago [and a follow-up from a couple of 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.]

So... all good things come in threes, right? Apparently the first sequel, "Wolf Quest", did so well in the selling department that Universal Cartoon Studios began work on a third film. I'll admit that again, I was excited. Seeing little sneak peeks of screencaps, concept art, clips and trailers from overseas [because they got the film before the US did], and the developing DVD cover art wasn't enough to whet my appetite for more wolfdog adventures... so by the time the film debuted two days before its DVD release, I was pumped to see the end result of the trilogy. At first, I did like it... but then the following views made me like it less and less.

Where its predecessor sequel was a risk-taker, this finale was a easily-predictable 'safe' film that I wish tried harder to be interesting like the first two films instead of something simple and dumbed-down for kids.

You don't get what I mean? Well, let's get to the plot of the final Balto movie, "Balto III: Wings of Change".

The movie takes place in 1928, three years since the events of movie one. Balto is suddenly entranced by a strange plane and wonders what it would be like to fly, while one of his Jenna-clone sons, Kodi [short for Kodiak], is working hard on a US Mail-delivery team, hoping to one day become lead dog like his old man. But, as the title states, changes are coming for the dogs... and when the plane's pilot suggests a race against the dog team to see who can deliver mail faster, the livelihoods of the sled dogs are at stake, and they seek Balto out to lead them to victory.

Oh, and there's Stella, a busty goose with a crush on Boris, who now reveals that he has a fear of heights.

Does this side-story have anything to do with the dog-sledding plot?

Spoiler answer: YEP. Very much a YEP.
Non-spoiler answer: ...Not really, at least not until the start of the race.

Okay, so... where do I start?

The animation is actually... pretty good for a DTV release. It's an improvement from "Wolf Quest", though it's not the theatrical-quality like was seen in "Balto". The character movements and walk/run cycles are quite fluid, except for some scenes where it was less realistic and more cartoony. The designs for the characters was much better than before, the colors and shading are really good, and Balto got his yellow eyes back! There are more CGI shots and angles in the film, but like "Wolf Quest", the backgrounds are actually quite stunning to look at. This is a definite plus for the film.

But I was expecting a good story, given that Universal managed to get the original writers for "Balto" [Elana Lesser and Cliff Ruby, who now write the majority of the DTV Barbie movies] for the ending film, but I was disappointed to see that the basic story was... weak and safe. It did return to the subject of dog-sledding and some minor characters made cameo appearances early on, so I'll give props for those shout-outs to the fans. Also, this story, like "Wolf Quest", focuses on the concept of change and lacks an actual villain. The plot allows the natural changes in life to be the antagonist, and that is an amazing feat in any DTV sequel/midquel/actual non-DTV movie in general for kids. However, if what I had heard about Steele being in this movie had actually happened [in which he has to assist Balto, his former rival, in the climax], I may have given this movie more credit for connecting the first and for actually ending Steele's character arc with possibly a chance at redemption three years after his fall from grace. Seriously, why didn't this happen? The best opportunity was truly missed for this film, writers.

At least there is some historical factors in this film's story with the US Mail Service in a circa-1928 Alaskan Territory [Alaska was not a state yet here], so it's good to know that there is some actual history and not just a sorta kid-friendly "based on history" film like "Balto" was. The battle between mail teams and airplane delivery is actually a real thing, and I was pleasantly surprised how nice it was to have this added.

Now for the characters... and again, I'll start with the older ones. They weren't all bad, but they weren't all an improvement from the first sequel.

Balto, our main lead, is... all obsessed about flight here. I'm not sure why, but I swear it has something to do with the guy flying his plane near Nome. It's really cute to see him like this, just like we see his love for racing in the first movie. He also shows more character and more emotion than in the previous movie [probably due to better animation accompanying his voice], though you know that despite his personal doubts, he's going to try his best to be the hero that his fellow dogs know and admire. Other than that, Balto is still rather weak and can come off as 'unlikeable' by the second half of the movie, though he tries to redeem himself by being the hero. Again, Maurice LaMarche voices the half-breed Balto, and his voice is actually the best Balto yet - it's an improvement!

Jenna is still voiced by Jodi Benson, but at least they give her more lines this go-around. This also is an improvement, but her character again does nothing to really help the plot except for her to be the encouraging mate for our hero and stay behind to worry and not join the fun. The sequels have't been good for you, have they, Jenna? At least she gets one redeeming moment, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Charles Fleischer and Kevin Schon reprise their roles as Boris and Muk/Luk respectively, though the latter doesn't really make any progress plot-wise until the second half. Boris, on the other hand, gets a whole subplot with a love interest... and his only real purpose is as an unnecessarily-comical role to to set up a second-half conflict. The gander even gets a

Speaking of 'love interest', let's talk about Stella. As a new character with the voice of Jean Smart, she adds some feminine tone to the film, though she might come off as too sexy for young kids. She even sings and flirts with Boris, hoping he'll 'come fly with her'... if you know what I mean. *ahem* Yes, this is still a kids movie that's rated for General Audiences. I'll admit that I highly disliked her character from the first viewing, but by the second half when a real crisis occurs, she actually is willing to do something to help, and that sort of redeems her as a useful new character. Lately, I am willing to give her some sort of respect for just the second half of the main plot alone.

Kodi, Balto's son, is another character we're introduced to, and unfortunately, we don't get enough time to know him as well as we did with Aleu in "Wolf Quest". Sean Astin gives him a good voice, but he would have been an interesting character if he'd been given the right amount of screentime. Still, he's a decent young character that isn't as whiny as Aleu, but you can tell that he's still got a lot to learn due to his reactions to the situations that occur with his team and between him and his father.

Other new characters include: Mel, a worrywort terrier that lives with the postman; Dipsy [Kathy Najimy], a bottomless-pit hound dog; Duke [Keith Carradine], the pilot of the plane that takes a interest in Balto when he takes an interest in the plane; and Kirby [Carl Weathers], Dusty and Ralph [Bill Fagerbakke], three named dogs that are on Kodi's team. They aren't all good though... or really necessary for the story except for complete plot-padding and for Duke to be a somewhat-antagonist [in the dog's eyes, mind you; for the story, he's not], but it's nice to hear some decent voice talent [and actors, in some cases] in something different than what animation fans would expect.

Music-wise, I will have to say that it's not too bad. The music is more adventurous like the first film, and it fits, given the theme being the same [dog-sledding]. The songs were also okay, on par to some of the better DTV sequels out there.

The first song, "Everything Flies", is the perfect set-up for the film. The images of the Alaskan wildlife and of the sled dogs is really nice, though this is also a place with a little cameo of a certain little girl from movie one... Too bad she gets no other scenes, but a cameo is still something. The song gets a reprise in the end as everything concludes, so the song is perfect bookends.

Second is Stella's flirty song to Boris, "Come On Up and Fly", and it is very jazzy and sultry. I'm surprised that some of the um, suggestive lyrics remained in the G-rated film, honestly. Other than that, I can't really say anything wrong with it. It's a stage-y type of song, so I suppose it works with Stella herself, given her design, as well as the near-1930s time period. The song is unnecessary though, and I wish they had used this time to give us more "Kodi-time" rather than "Boris x Stella shipping".

As I mentioned earlier, Jenna gets the final song, "You Don't Have To Be A Hero", and it is soothing and inspirational as it should be. Even the images to go with it are quite sweet, bringing back the puppies [and Aleu] from the previous film but putting some focus on Balto and Kodi. It's nice to see Balto proud of his son and how much he's grown since he was a pup, as well as to give some sort of backstory to why Kodi wants to be a sled dog like his famous father... and all with just the visuals accompanying her song. It's probably the best thing Jenna's done in the sequels, honestly, and it's a shame she wasn't written to do much more.

Overall, this is not the film I expected for Balto's swan song. It does return to his original focus of dog-sledding by adding how important it is to his son, Kodi, but it does help this movie from being a predictable bore-fest. Some of the humor from Stella is more adult-oriented than I'd expect for a kid's movie and there's some banter between a couple of moose that might get a laugh, so the whole family might find something to like.

Still, the animation's good, the music's decent, but the story makes this finale a weak piece of fail. Is it worth watching? Probably for the sake of knowing you watched the Balto trilogy in its entirely, yes... but unless you're a die-hard Balto fan or need to have all three for a complete set, I would give it just a single watch and nothing more. The DVD is actually harder to find in stores [unlike the two previous movies, which you can now get in a two-movie set for as low as $5] but is easier to seek out online, though for a much higher price [about $5 or more].

In my initial review of "Wings of Change" in 2005 [right after the US premiere], I gave the film 3.5 stars, but then years later, I dropped my rating to 2 stars. What do I think of it now?

Eh... it's not really worthy of 2 stars or any more than 3 stars in my mind, if only because it had the potential to be an awesome finale for the wolfdog and his world by bringing back the original film's writers and having improved animation, but it just failed and was too safe, child-friendly and, in the end, quite lame.

MY 'NEW RATING: 2.5 STARS

animated cartoon Balto III: Wings of Change © Universal
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