In New York City, an elderly woman and her granddaughter are walking through Central Park, looking for a memorial statue. As they seat themselves for a rest, the grandmother tells a story about Nome, Alaska back in 1925, which shifts the film from live-action to animation.
Balto, a wolfdog hybrid, lives on the outskirts of Nome with his adoptive father, a snow goose named Boris, and two polar bears, Muk and Luk. Being half-breed, Balto is ridiculed by dogs and humans alike. His only friend in town is a red husky named Jenna whom Balto has a crush on and her owner, Rosy. He is later challenged by the town's favorite sled dog, Steele, a fierce and arrogant Alaskan Malamute.
That night, all the children, including Rosy, fall ill with diphtheria and the doctor is out of antitoxin. The local wireless operator relays news of the outbreak, and word travels to the territory capital at Juneau, where the governor orders antitoxin to be sent to Nome. However, severe winter weather conditions prevent medicine from being brought by sea or air, and the closest rail line from Juneau ends at Nenana, 600 miles east of Nome. A dog race is held to determine the best-fit dogs for a sled dog team to get the medicine. Balto enter and wins, but Steele exposes his wolf-dog heritage, resulting in him being disqualified. The team departs that night with Steele in the lead and later picks up the medicine successfully, but on the way back, conditions deteriorate and the disoriented team ends up stranded at the base of a steep mountainside slope with the musher knocked unconscious.
When the word reaches Nome that the sled team is missing, the town prepares for the worst. Balto sets out in search of the sled team, along with Boris, Muk and Luk. On the way, they are attacked by a huge grizzly bear, but Jenna, who followed their mark tracks, intervenes. The bear pursues Balto out onto a frozen lake, where it falls through the ice and drowns, while Muk and Luk dive in to save Balto from a similar fate. However, Jenna got injured and cannot continue on. Balto instructs Boris and the polar bears to take her back home while he continues on alone; Jenna gives him her bandanna and Boris gives him some advice. Balto eventually finds the team, but Steele does not want his help and attacks him until he loses his balance and falls off a cliff. Balto takes charge of the team. Steele, refusing to concede defeat, throws them off the trail and they lose their way again. While attempting to save the medicine from falling down a cliff, Balto himself falls.
Back in Nome, Jenna is explaining Balto's mission to the other dogs, but they don't believe her. When Steele returns, he claims the entire team, including Balto, is dead; he uses Jenna's bandanna as supposed proof. However, Jenna sees through his lies and assures Balto will return with the medicine, but the others remain skeptical. Using a trick Balto showed her earlier, she places broken colored glass bottles on the outskirts of town and shine a lantern on them to simulate the lights of an aurora, hoping it will help guide Balto home. When Balto regains consciousness, he is ready to give up hope, but when a large, white wolf appears and he notice the medicine crate still intact nearby, he realizes that his part-wolf heritage is a strength, not a weakness, and drags the medicine back up the cliff to the waiting team. Using his advanced senses, Balto is able to filter out the false markers Steele created.
After encountering further challenges, and losing only one vial, Balto and the sled team finally make it back to Nome. A pity-playing Steele is exposed as a liar and abandoned by the other dogs, ruining his reputation. Reunited with Jenna and his friends, Balto earns respect from both the dogs and the townspeople. He visits a cured Rosy, who thanks him for saving her.
Back in the present day, the elderly woman and her granddaughter finally find the memorial commemorating Balto, and she explains that the Iditarod trail covers the same path that Balto and his team took from Nenana to Nome. The woman, who is revealed to be Rosy, repeats the same line, "Thank you, Balto. I would have been lost without you," before walking off to join her granddaughter and her Siberian Husky, Blaze. The film ends with the Balto statue standing proudly in the sunlight.
Cast and characters
- Kevin Bacon as Balto, a young adult male wolfdog; being half-husky and half-wolf. Jeffrey James Varab and Dick Zondag served as the supervising animators for Balto.
- Bob Hoskins as Boris, a Russian snow goose and Balto's caretaker and sidekick. Kristof Serrand served as the supervising animator for Boris.
- Bridget Fonda as Jenna, a female Husky and Rosy's pet as well as Balto's love interest. Robert Stevenhagen served as the supervising animator for Jenna.
- Juliette Brewer as young Rosy, Jenna's owner and a kind, excitable girl who was the only human in Nome who is kind to Balto. She falls ill, but Balto brings the medicine to save her and the other children. David Bowers served as the supervising animator for Rosy.
- Miriam Margolyes as old Rosy in the live-action sequences who tells her story to her granddaughter.
- Jim Cummings as Steele, an Alaskan Malamute and Balto's rival who also has a crush on Jenna. Sahin Ersöz served as the supervising animator for Steele.
- Phil Collins as Muk and Luk, a pair of polar bear cubs, Muk talks but not Luk. Nicolas Marlet served as the supervising animator for Muk and Luk.
- Jack Angel, Danny Mann and Robbie Rist as Nikki, Kaltag and Star (respectively), the members of Steele's team. William Salazar served as the supervising animator for the team.
- Sandra Dickinson as Dixie, a female Pomeranian and one of Jenna's friends who adores Steele until his lies are exposed. Dickinson also voices Sylvie, a female Afghan Hound who is Jenna's friend as well; and Rosy's mother. Patrick Mate served as the supervising animator for Sylvie and Dixie.
- Lola Bates-Campbell as Rosy's granddaughter, who appears in the live-action sequences and is accompanied by her dog Blaze, purebred Siberian Husky.
- William Roberts as Rosy's father
- Donald Sinden as Curtis Welch, the doctor
- Bill Bailey as a butcher
- Garrick Hagon as a telegraph operator
- Frank Welker as the Grizzly bear
- This film marked the last time James Horner composed the music for an animated film, as he died in a plane crash on June 22, 2015.
- As of June 13, 2017, this will currently be Universal's only animated film still presented in the pan and scan format only on a Region 1 DVD.
- The second Universal's live-action/animated hybrid film, after Casper.