While the less said about the "Beethoven" movies the better, Universal has suddenly seemed to be developing more and more of their animated properties for home video sequels. While Disney has done this to some acclaim for a few years, Universal has done a fine job so far on their own, especially with the "Land Before Time" films, a rare series that actually teaches without being preachy, provides action and solid animation, as well. "Balto 2: Wolf Quest" is another strong offering from the studio, with some good messages and solid action packed into a tight 75 minute picture.
A sequel to the 1995 picture, "Balto: Wolf Quest" finds Balto becoming a father and having to face the task of raising his pups until their adoption. Yet, there's one dog in particular, Aleu (Lacey Chabert) that looks different than the rest - clearly more wolf than the rest. When a near-tragic accident forces Aleu to find out the truth about her wolf heritage, she runs away on a journey to discover her place.
Obviously, the film's main message is that it's good be who you are and you should be proud of your heritage. Rather than shoving this message at the audience, the film makes its points across the entire arc of the story. While one would expect lesser animation in a direct-to-video edition, this film actually does provide better animation than these non-theatrical titles usually offer. The film also boasts somewhat better voice talent, including Mark Hamill, Peter MacNicol, famed Disney animation vocalist Jodi Benson, David Carradine and the previously mentioned Chabert, all of whom give sincere, involving performances. Even the refreshingly few songs are nicely placed.
I venture into these animated titles not knowing quite what to expect. Some of the straight-to-video children's titles seem poorly concieved and are more about flash and action than actually providing lessons about life. "Balto: Wolf Quest" and the "Land Before Time" series actually prove that these films can actually teach and provide several moments of action that are all the more involving because we actually care about the characters.
"Balto: Wolf Quest" will likely be enjoyed by children 6-and-above. Some below that might find a few sequences slightly scary. Still, this is a film that both parents and children can enjoy together.
VIDEO: "Balto: Wolf Quest" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame which, given the fact that this is a direct-to-video release, is likely the film's original aspect ratio. The animation is quite well-presented by the DVD; the animation remains crisp throughout, even if it's not particularly detailed. Only a few minor bits of shimmering appeared, but that was it in terms of flaws; no print problems or pixelation were seen. Colors remained bright and vibrant throughout, with no concerns. While not a visually stunning effort of animation, "Balto: Wolf Quest" still looked very good here.
SOUND: "Balto: Wolf Quest" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. It's an interesting presentation; I'm not expecting an agressive surround-sound experience from a film like this one and most of this film didn't provide one. Yet, there were a few action sequences where the surrounds came to life and a few action sequences where I thought they would and didn't. Either way, most of the audio remained in the front speakers and quality was pleasing, as the dialogue was crisp and what score/sound effects there were were natural and convincing.
MENUS: Basic main and sub-menus with little animation or other "touches".
EXTRAS: "Rescue Aleu" game, Fisher Price game demo, trailer and DVD-ROM features.
Final Thoughts: "Balto: Wolf Quest" teaches the importance of individuality without being too preachy. It also provides solid voice talent, respectable animation and some good action. I didn't know what to expect going in, but I found the film very enjoyable. Universal's DVD offers solid audio/video quality and a few minor supplements. Recommended.
The Film ***
Video 90/A- = (360/400 possible points)
Audio: 86/B = (344/400 possible points)
Extras: 70/C- = (210/300 possible points)
Menus: 70/C- = (140/200 possible points)
Value: 82/B = (246/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ***
DVD GRADE: B