Any true Balto fan MUST read this...even if it's long! There was no way to do this shorter...
I wanted to make this article since a long time. Because I wanted everyone to know why Balto isn't really popular, why I'm angry about Universal policy. I also found that most people here don't know the context when they think about the Balto films.
To summarize, the problem with Balto is that since the very beginning, Universal has not really made any effort to promote it correctly. So, let's get back to the beginning.
1 - Amblimation
Amblimation was an animation studio located in London, which was more or less independant from Universal, which only published their films. It was Steven Spielberg's animation studio, many years before Dreamworks.
Amblimation started in the 80's with An American Tail, which was a big success with a low budget compared to the Disney films. So, they made another film later, Land Before Time (1989), then they made a sequel to An American Tail named Fievel goes West (1991). They got a fairly good success, and were almost as popular as the Disney films at the time.
Although, the studio finally made the mistake of producing a lower-than-average animated film, We're Back : A Dinosaur's story. (1993) (well, I have never seen it, but I've heard everywhere it was bad) The film got almost no success, and was quickly forgotten. But Spielberg, with this and the problems he had with Georges Lucas for making Land Before Time, was beginning to lose interest in the studio.
2 - Balto 1
So they decided to make another good animated film, working hard to get back on good values, and they worked 3 years to make Balto. At the time, Spielberg was already creating a new animated studio with two other people, which will become Dreamworks. (Why he created DW instead of making changes in Amblimation is still a mystery to me...)
But then, when it was time to release Balto, neither Amblimation nor Universal knew who should promote the film. There was a real problem in their relations, so when the film was released, Universal only made a very discrete promotion campaign. In fact, the film was more or less abandoned by both its publisher, and the producers who were already prepared to join the new animation company.
They released it in the US at christmas 1995. Which was the worst move they could have ever done. The worst nightmare that any 2D animated film would have failed against, come in two words : Toy Story. It came out a few days before Balto in the US. It was getting a big promotion campaign from Disney, and the novelty factor of it made that everyone was focused on it. Even the reviewers from that time couldn't stop comparing Toy Story with Balto when they reviewed it, which is completly stupid considering the huge differences between the two.
So, it got no support, no advertising campaign, confronted to the biggest animated film since Snow White, and the failure of We're back, which made everyone forget about Amblimation.
The results are there : very few people went to see Balto in theaters. In fact, it even got one of the worst box office I've ever seen for an animated film : 11 millions of dollars in the US...
And it didn't get really better when they released it worldwide, because there would still be Toy Story against it, for which there wasn't even any possible battle.
3 - So, why the sequels?
After that failure, Universal (who got all the rights on the film) stopped making any merchandise (there wasn't many anyway...), and hasn't made any since the release in 1995.
They managed to release it in home video (VHS cassette), and more or less forgot about everything about it.
Although, that's the time Balto got to prove how good it is. With the years, the film got big sales (I heard of 4 millions units only on cassette, which is really good), thanks to the word of mouth.
In parallel of all this, some years before the closure of Amblimation, Universal made his own animation studio, which will be named Universal Cartoon Studios. The main reason they created it, was to make sequels to animated films, beginning with Land Before Time 2 in 1994. And guess what, the studio is still doing sequels, and still Land Before Time...This studio is an overseas animation studio, which means that the story, music,... are produced in the US, and the animation is done in an animation facility based in Taiwan : Wang Film Productions.
Look at this wikipedia page for more information about it :
This is obviously for budget reasons, making animation overseas is much cheaper and Disney is doing the same with all its sequels. Which does not automatically make bad animation, don't forget about Lion king 1 1/2 for example...
But let's get back to the subject. In 1999-2000, after making 6 LBT sequels, Universal, who noticed (finally!) the good sales of Balto in home video, decided to make a sequel. This would be very cheap for them, because they would be using the same animation studio making the LBT sequels, but with a slightly different team in the US. (of course, they wouldn't be able to make two films at the same time otherwise...)
But they couldn't get the animators and the voice actors from the first film, for obvious budget reasons, and also planning problems. (I heard some voice actors would have been returned, but they weren't available when they needed to do the voice track).
4 - Balto 2 Wolf Quest
There came Balto 2 : Wolf Quest, in 2001 (US) - 2002 (Europe). It was advertised more or less the same as the current LBT sequel released at the same time (LBT 7 or 8, I don't remember)
It was an exception for something though : this was the first animated film ever released like this that came out on television (on Cartoon Networks) BEFORE the release on DVD. I don't know if it had good effects or not, though.
Anyway, the film got pretty good sales. (The associate director said that is even sold better than any of their expectations) If you ask my opinion, I would say that it is mostly due to the fact that many people around the world were really fans of the original film, so they bought it.
It may also be the result of a decent advertising campaign : no merchandising at all, but at least it was well advertised on TV.
This film shared the fans, but you probably already know that : there are people who hate the film and think it has destroyed the original film, and some think it's the best Balto film, or even that it's the Balto film that made them Balto fans because they discovered it by watching the sequel.
I will only say one thing : the film has songs, and this was not a choice from the directors. The executives from Universal force them to include at least 3 songs in their DTV films. They say that kids love songs in animated films... Oh really. That's not 'exactly' what I've heard from the opinions of the kids members here. Maybe they should study their audiences before making stupid things like this... Ok, well, I'll stop there.
Also, Universal decided to release the Balto 1 dvd at the same time as the Balto 2 dvd. The thing I still wonder is : would have it been released on DVD, if the sequel hadn't came?...
But that DVD is really bad. At least, the US version. It is full-screen, which makes 1/3 of the film lost because of the image transfer. There are next-to-no bonuses, and absolutely nothing for adults watchers. Contrary to Disney, everything was made for very young audiences - which is definitely NOT the only audience of the original film. I think they even mentionned a documentary on the cover, that wasn't on the disk...And the cover. Horrible. They made Jenna brown. Did they only watched the film before validating this cover? So, it was really a 'quickly-done' dvd. The problem is that it's the only Balto dvd available since then in the US. 'Special editions? Uh? What's that? We have never heard of that...Are there other film companies doing that?'
Fortunately, the non-US (example : european) DVD is a lot better. It is anamorphic (16/9), which is the original ratio of the film; and it has the documentary that wasn't findable on the US dvd, which is pretty interesting. But that's all. Still a 'quickly done' dvd.
I won't talk about the Balto 2 DVD, which has pretty much the same mistakes.
5 - Balto 3 Wings of Change
Universal was satisfied by the sales, so they immediately started working on another sequel, only a few months after Balto 2 was released. They took the exact same team, but added something : two of the original writers, who were also working on other direct-to-video projects at the time. This is why the story is entirely different from WQ, and that it's much closer to the original.
I suppose (not sure though, but it would seem logical) that the budget was more or less the same as they gave for making Balto 2. Although, 2-3 years after, the animation team showed improvements to the whole film.
That's when I discovered (the film aired on french TV in christmas 2003), and I started the site a few months later. When I made the site, I already knew there was a second sequel planned, and I immediately collected as much information as possible on the site. (old members will probably remember that period :) ) Ahhh, I miss these good old days...
Err ok, back to the topic. One day, I discovered that they would release it in Europe BEFORE the US, which is a strange move. And this is what happened : Balto 3 was released around October 2004 in european countries (except UK).
I also found the official trailer on the Universal japanese website. We were all very excited because this looked like a major improvement over Wolf Quest. And yes, even now, I must say it's still a major improvement over Balto 2.
But I immediately got worried by the fact that it was very poorly promoted. In fact, I would say it got NO advertisement, even on TV. It just popped here in the stores (and not even all the stores...), and quickly disappeared from them. And, of course, no merchandise at all. Sure thing, people will buy something they don't know the existence, and that they can't find in stores. Well done Universal.
Also, the dvd itself is more or less at the same quality as the Balto 1 & 2 dvds, but they even included bloopers on the covers of the europeans boxes...
They released it a few months later in the USA, on February 2005. They did the same thing as for Balto 2, which means releasing it on Cartoon Networks a few days before the sale on DVD. And, the same happened than in Europe (from what I've heard) : next-to-no advertisement, and a film difficult to find in stores - something that didn't happen so much with Balto 2.
For a reason I still don't know, Universal missed the release of Balto 3, a bit in the same way they missed the release of the original. At the time, I was still hoping that Balto 3 made enough sales - when there is very few units available in stores, it can also mean that the film got very good sales. But now I think this is only because there were very few units shipped.
6 - The petition
I still had doubts, and anyway I wasn't satisfied with what Universal had done with the Balto franchise overall. So I decided to make that petition :
You will notice that it wasn't asking for a new sequel. We waited a few months to gather signatures.
In parallel of this, I was making searches to know the reaction of Universal to the film. This didn't get any results.
Although, I found in the middle of 2005, that Universal was making a complete revault of their old animation studio, renaming it to 'Universal Studios Home Entertainement Family Productions' (wow, that's a short one)
Take a look here :
I thought that as good news at first, that it would mean they would take a new look at their brands and since they would make more animated films than before, give a new chance to Balto. Well it seems I thought wrong.
A few months later, we sent our petition with over 1000 signatures, in paper form. (so that it would have more effect) One month later, we got an answer. You've probably already seen it, but I'll write it again :
'We had been entertaining the idea of producing another Balto movie, but the sad truth is that not enough people bought the last one to make it attractive to produce another. You see, in order to be able to produce a film, we have to know enough people are interested in buying it to be able to pay for the cost and marketing.
We really like the Balto character and are pleased to know that there are people like you out there that are such big fans.
My best regards,
DICTATED BUT NOT READ,
Glenn Ross '
This is the topic to this :
How should we react to this? First, it's a good thing that they answered us. Well that's the only good thing about this.
They just didn't understand the petition. We were NEVER asking for a Balto 4. So why did they say that?
I can only see one thing, something many members here don't understand, and the thing that the managers of Universal in charge of Balto never got to understand, is that when you want to promote a film, there are many ways to do this. And this is NOT doing sequels after sequels.
Yes, Balto 3 probably didn't make enough sales for them, but what did they expect? That a film with no advertisement and difficult to find even for fans, would make big sales? Also, I think this was also due to the fact many fans who bought Balto 2 didn't buy the third, because they didn't liked B2 at all. (which is a terrible mistake to me, considering the big differences between those two) Ok, I suppose Land Before Time manage to make good sales only with the name, but unfortunately Balto had never got this chance.
7 - Now
When I saw this, I immediately thought that this means the end for Balto. That they won't do anything about it for a VERY long time. Maybe I'm wrong, but for now, two years have passed since the release of Balto 3 and the result is here : they haven't done ANY single thing for Balto during these two years. Nothing-at-all. And seriously, I don't know any company who would react that way, trashing any franchise that didn't make good sales on one product.
Although this is not the first time : that's exactly what they've done with An American Tail, after the release of 2 DTV sequels. They just trashed it, removed from their minds. Nothing at all since 1999. And yet, it was one of the most famous animated film from the 80-90's.
I just can't bare that. I can't bare the fact we won't see anything new, that everyone will progressively forget about it, even if it's not popular already...
Meanwhile, look at the stuff they have planned to release.
- Land Before Time 12 & 13 (DTV sequels)
- Land Before Time TV series + on DVD
- Curious George 2 (DTV sequel)
- Curious George Preschool TV series
- Babe animated series.
And they are also the new publisher for the Barbie movies. Is that enough? Is it even possible to make more LBT stuff, in case some children don't know it yet?
Besides, for all of these franchises, there will be merchandise released, which is something different from the way they acted before. Things that Balto deserved to have, but never had that chance, and probably will never have.
Do you only that Balto is the ONLY animated film from the 80-90's that never had any video game released? (except maybe for Anastasia, and I'm not even 100% sure...) Even 'We're Back' got one! How fair is that?
In a general way, I think you've felt it already, but at no time, Balto was let any chance by Universal. They have never really believed in it. And though, I know that it could have very well become one of the most famous animated films of the 90's. Especially when you consider how well was received Lion King, which is not that far on many elements, the ones that the public like.
Universal is pretty much saying that 'it's not our fault, people don't like them that much, that's all'. No, I'm sorry. There are at least a few things any company should do in a situation like this.
The main one is to release a pack with the dvds. Put the 3 dvds in a box, and sell it at a cheap price, for people who didn't have the films yet and would want to discover them. Not only does it costs NOTHING to do that, but they would automatically generate benefits because they could repackage the units that were not sold.
Or, they should at least cut the price of the dvds officially, or release it in a collection of 'old' films at a cheap price. Because for now, in the US, the official price is still the same since 2002 : 20$...And most stores still sell it that much...
How can someone who doesn't know the film, would take the risk to buy it? Have they only even thought about that?? I'm sure not : they only care about their 'money earning' franchises. It's either everything or nothing for them now, and they just won't care if there are fans around the world awaiting for a special edition dvd, even if they would be sure to make benefits from this. They just don't know how much money they lost by not giving it any chance.
But no : currently, the Balto films are nearly unfindable in local stores, and when they are, it's at a high price. No pack was ever released for Balto, and I think it's the only franchise with sequels from Universal that never got any pack. Go check their website, you'll see if I'm wrong.
Yet, the film never deserved that.
In fact, I have rarely seen any negative critic about the film. The only ones I've seen were reviews written in 1995, which compared it Toy Story. Apart from that, everyone I know who watched the film liked it. And I'm not referring only to Balto fans there.
This is one of these rare animated gems, that people never got to hear of, but are really masterpieces to the people who really know what is Animation.
So what now? Is there anything they will do? I wouldn't count on that. I highly doubt that they are planning to do anything with it now, considering their current plans.
Is there anything we could do? I don't know. I think I've done everything I could with the site to make things change, but this hasn't got any effect at all. I like working on the site, making new things, seeing what fans can make etc...But this will never replace what we're losing, and in a way, I feel like I've failed with the main objective of the site. Now, I'm just waiting, in case they would wake up and realize all this...I guess this will never happen.
If anyone has any ideas...and comments.