BALTO EXPANDED EDITION: OUR EXCLUSIVE REVIEW
James Horner once said he never turned down a project offered to him by Steven Spielberg. (Neither would any other composer in their sane mind, I imagine.) After Schindler’s List (1993), Spielberg embarked on a string of serious movies calling for increasingly subdued scores. Before 1993, however, the projects he directed and executive-produced represented one broad canvas after another on which the film composer was encouraged to paint with bold strokes and unashamedly operatic colors, every new assignment the promise of a rich symphonic tapestry. For Balto, Horner again delivered on that promise and then some.
James Horner had already scored An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) and We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story (1993) when 1995’s Balto proved to be the third and final film produced by Amblimation, an offshoot of Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. If you are a Horner fan and own MCA’s original score album, you have probably seen the movie and you remember the story. In 1925, the town of Nome, Alaska, experienced an outbreak of diphtheria and quickly ran out of antitoxin. Sled dogs were called upon to fetch a fresh load from Nenanak and brave a fierce snow blizzard on their way back to Nome. Instrumental in this endeavor were the efforts of a husky called Balto, whose act of heroism is commemorated by a statue in New York’s Central Park.
Cleverly, director Simon Wells and his scribes re-imagined Balto as a wolf/dog hybrid for this 2D animation movie, paving the way for a profound crisis of identity, a theme which is always ripe with dramatic potential. This crisis of identity is really the heart of the story, allowing the filmmakers to turn the screenplay into a neat three-act affair and encouraging James Horner to construct his score around just two cues featuring a musical line that would later be bumped up to main theme status for Enemy At The Gates (2001). By then, the melody had Horner bashers up in arms, as it was blamed for sounding a bit too much like John Williams’s main theme for Schindler’s List. With the benefit of hindsight, the controversy was futile: the Enemy At The Gates theme clearly germinated in 1995 and even though Balto was released only two years after Spielberg’s seminal holocaust drama, it is unlikely that the latter project was a particular source of inspiration for a story about a dog trying to find his inner wolf. Finally, listen to the original version of Not Dog Nor Wolf (track 22 on the Intrada album, 0:24 to 0:38) and you can almost literally hear the theme taking shape in Horner’s mind. In its earliest stages, the musical idea had next to nothing to do with Williams’s famous theme.
The melody (let’s call it the wolf theme) appears in just two out of the score’s twenty-one cues and yet a solid case can be made for calling it the main theme, since it speaks to the core of the story and its protagonist. However, Horner realized the idea’s potential fairly late in the game. By then, he had already constructed nearly all of his cues around another melody, a spectacular long-lined identity that is introduced as a lyrical line over the title card and goes on to appear in a mind-boggling variety of guises in almost every cue. Horner recorded the score with his cherished London Symphony Orchestra in July 1995. Back in Los Angeles and seeing an opportunity to improve the score’s architecture, he re-scored an earlier cue (Not Dog Nor Wolf) and worked in a subdued statement of the wolf theme. In doing so, he had turned that statement into a subtle set-up. The theme’s repeated and pronounced statements in the Dark Night of the Soul sequence preceding the start of the third act and featuring a white wolf spirit, automatically became its spectacular pay-off.
Also part of Balto’s thematic toolbox is a growling motif that appears just once, during an action set-piece featuring a grizzly attack, and a love theme of sorts that is arguably the score’s sole weak link. It appears a total of five times in the same identical oboe arrangement and Horner missed the opportunity to make it soar when he had a chance to, during Balto’s final reunion with Jenna. As it stands, it is an underdeveloped line that is like a loose thread in the patchwork of Horner’s total oeuvre.
But don’t let that minor quibble keep you from discovering the brilliant Balto score in its entirety on Intrada’s wonderful new album, which boasts glorious sound, eighteen minutes of unreleased material and twelve minutes of interesting alternates. Doing an A/B comparison with the original 1995 album, this new Intrada expansion is taken from the 2-track DAT mixes recorded by Shawn Murphy and offers not only a slightly higher volume increase without any of the dynamic range being compromised, but also improved clarity in the finer details. The harps and chimes heard throughout the score ring sharper and easier to discern from the grand London Symphony. As mentioned before, it was quite interesting to discover that several cues were recorded with a Los Angeles orchestra (the Hollywood Studio Symphony most likely) and there was no noticeable difference in recording quality or performance. The 1995 original album is completely rendered obsolete with this expansion, as it is a top-notch album and a revelation from Intrada. Moreover, the decision to include the original album edits and alternate versions that were previously released in 1995 is quite welcome, as the original, intended Balto Brings The Medicine! cue was of a more tender finale to what became the revised, rescored version heard in the main program. The excised Mambo-flavored insert into Rosy Goes To The Doctor is just as the album’s liner notes allude to: the original album version was more musically satisfying than with the insert intact, though it is in this case a perfect world of sorts, as both are included.
The Intrada booklet features an admirable essay by Frank K. DeWald expounding the score’s musical merits. We thought we would try and complement it with a closer look at the score from a dramatic and storytelling point of view. The cue titles are taken from the Intrada album but the timings mentioned are as in the movie.
1. Main Title / Opening Scene (0:23 – 4:57) (4:39)
This live-action opening scene, its transition to animation and the subsequent frantic race sequence allow Horner to compose a grand overture. Gently rolling piano and delicate woodwinds lead to a sumptuous and lyrical string statement of the Balto theme as the title card appears thirty-nine seconds into the movie. We meet an old woman who has taken her granddaughter, followed by a husky called Blaze, to Central Park and is now looking for Balto’s statue. Horner takes his cue from the rustic park surroundings before an interesting accent occurs at 2:27, when the old woman picks up the little girl’s musher’s hat. The old woman is, of course, young Rosy from the story that is about to unfold, and the hat was a gift from her parents shortly before she contracted diphtheria. Unable to find the statue and needing a rest, the old woman sits down on a bench and starts reminiscing. Around the three-minute mark, the score thins down to just soft sustained strings as live action transitions to animation, and picks up again after the narrator announces the dogsled race. Twelve seconds later, Horner takes his cue from a cut to the race and unleashes a barrage of exciting rhythms and swirling strings, over which the Balto theme reappears, now transformed into a proud line for horns. Horner walks a fine line here, since the character established in this scene is not Balto himself, but Steele, an arrogant purebred Alaskan Malamute and quite appropriately the story’s villain, since he is the exact opposite of Balto’s mix of wolf and dog. Steele, of course, wants to win by all means necessary and is not above biting the competition out of the race. The confrontation between the two sled teams reaches its climax when they are forced into a narrow canyon, at which point Horner moves the action music into decidedly darker and less glamorous territory. When Steele storms out of the canyon victorious, the composer cleverly dissolves the tension into nothing but amorphous strings stewing in the background.
2. Boris and Balto (5:10 – 6:36) (1:29)
The live-action portion of the first cue required few accents and its lack of narrative elements allowed the music to flow freely. The race music followed the action more closely, with more hits and synchronization points. For this scene of comedy, establishing Balto but especially Boris the goose (voiced by Bob Hoskins, whose Russian accent here plays like a dry run for his turn in Enemy At The Gates as Nikita Krushchev), Horner completely and confidently resorts to Mickey Mousing. In fact, the Balto score features perhaps more of it than many other animation scores by Horner, and yet the composer keeps it all musically coherent, which is no small feat.
The comedy ends at 6:00, and during its aftermath, Horner returns to Balto’s theme as the titular hero muses about being part of a sled team and winning the races himself. Boris, of course, realizes no one will accept a half-breed and tries to talk him out of it.
The following scene establishes Rosy (who is given the aforementioned musher’s hat) and her husky Jenna, who will go on to become Balto’s love interest but also the object of Steele’s affections, which adds significantly to the bitter stand-off between the purebred and the half-breed.
3. The Dogsled Race (8:00 – 9:38) (1:40)
During the first thirty seconds, Horner broadly scores the townspeople’s effervescent mood as the race that opened the movie enters into its final stages. At 8:32, however, the wind blows Rosie’s hat onto the road and in a nice triple-perspective shot, we move from Rosie to the hat, from the hat to Balto and from Balto to the road, the race dogs appearing in the distance. Horner accents the three focal shifts and seven seconds later, erupts into action as Balto dives in and tries to save the hat from the dogs charging furiously into town. Interestingly, Horner uses the cue’s most triumphant statement of the Balto theme during the action itself and less for Balto’s success, keenly aware that good storytelling is a matter of dosage, that the protagonist has not even begun to arc yet and that celebrations of victory are best saved for the end of the story. Nonetheless, this relatively short cue is an early action highlight.
4. Balto Sees Jenna (10:14 – 12:20) (2:10) (previously unreleased)
Balto’s performance has not gone unnoticed. One man says about Steele: “Just about any dog can outrun him these days.” The Malamute gets a serious case of the green-eyed monster and shoots daggers at Balto. The battle lines are drawn and Horner comments on Steele’s jealousy in the cue’s first few seconds. At 10:23, Balto catches a glimpse of Jenna and Horner quickly inserts the first oboe statement of the love theme. For the next half minute or so, gaudy Steele courts Jenna (“I know where all the good bones are buried.”). The score responds with a suggestive mix of piano, muted trumpets and tuba until at 11:42, Jenna and Balto are nose to nose and a second statement of the love theme is heard. In the end, however, Balto is too bashful to strike up a conversation with the fetching husky lady and slinks off. Appropriately, the Balto theme appears in increasingly fragmented form. The ensuing bullying scene is a delicate one and Horner wisely leaves it unscored.
5. Not Dog Nor Wolf (Rescore) (14:12 – 15:20) (1:31) (previously unreleased)
Humiliated and sad, Balto walks up a hill during sunset to a melancholy oboe variation of his theme. At 14:22, he spots a wolf family on a nearby hill and at this point, Horner brings in the first statement of the wolf theme. When they beckon him, our hero turns his back on them, as yet unable to acknowledge his origins. (The moment is wordless and therefore highly cinematic, until Boris comes along and talks it to death. Too bad. Maybe the filmmakers were afraid the kids wouldn’t get it.)
The music turns all sprightly again when Boris has an idea to comfort Balto. He imitates a dog and even throws in a toy cat in order to appeal to the dog his friend so desperately wants to be, but in vain.
This is one of the re-scored cues Horner recorded in Los Angeles. The last ten seconds of the cue, which would have made the bit with the toy cat delightfully grotesque, were dropped from the film. The result is a moment of delightfully dry humor, which is just as good.
6. Not Dog Nor Wolf – Part 2 (15:38 – 16:33) (0:59) (previously unreleased)
The boisterous opening of the cue represents Boris’s last attempt to cheer Balto up: he engages in some wild Cossack dancing. At 16:00, a flock of migrating geese appear in the sky and Balto asks Boris why he does not join them. Cues #5 and #6 cover the scene in which the movie’s theme is stated loud and clear: this is a story about an individual torn between conflicting identities.
7. Muk and Luk Arrival (Original) (1:32) (unused)
Quickly becoming Balto’s sidekicks, Muk and Luk are two shy polar bears both voiced by Phil Collins and both shunned by the other polar bears because they are afraid of water. Boris lifts his arms in exasperation: “More whimpering? Between you two and Balto, it’s like a Dostoyevski novel around here.”
James Horner had a bit of a hard time coming to grips with the comedy in this scene. He composed and recorded two different versions (see track 23 for the revised edition) and as irony would have it, neither was used and the scene was scored with bits and pieces of Boris and Balto tracked in. The cues as Horner envisioned them are pretty carnivalesque in nature.
8. Rosy Goes To The Doctor (17:27 – 21:31) (4:07)
It’s time for the story proper to get started. The deceptively upbeat opening covers a pranking Boris. At one point, Boris even does the mambo, at which point Horner was forced to break the tone with a short flash of mambo music. When the time came to prepare a score album in 1995, he edited the moment out of the cue. (That version is featured as an alternate on the Intrada album.) The mood quickly turns somber when at 19:08, a plaintive oboe plays over the scene where Rosy and several other children are down with diphtheria. The music briefly turns cheery again when Rosy spots Jenna looking in from the street, but when the coughing starts again, the short bit of joy is interrupted. Unaware of the children’s condition, Balto tries to straighten his hair and work up the courage to ask Jenna out on a date. When Jenna tells him she would love to find out more about Rosy, Balto takes her into the boiler room under the hospital rooms.
9. Balto’s Aurora (21:42 – 22:50) (1:13) (previously unreleased)
The boiler room is a pretty shabby place of course, and when Balto clears Jenna’s face, Horner supplies the third statement of their love theme. When Jenna says she’s not really interested in seeing the aurora right now, Balto tells her she’s looking at the glass half empty. At 22: 43, he uses the reflection of broken glass to create his version of the northern lights on the opposite wall. It’s a magical moment that Horner scores with entrancing chimes, beautifully cascading oboe figures and, at 22:41, another tentative statement of the love theme. The aurora scene is a pretty ingenious storytelling device: it’s a nice metaphor for how Jenna sees Balto (the glass half empty) and it will prove to be a set-up, reflected in the third act by Jenna’s decision to recreate Balto’s aurora outside as a beacon for him to find his way back to Nome.
10. Quarantine (24:05 – 26:27) (2:28) (previously unreleased)
The cue’s first minute sees another confrontation with Steele, who manages to pass Balto off as a sausage thief.
At 24:58, the town’s marconist sends out a call for fresh supplies of antitoxins. As the telegraph starts, so does Horner’s first beautiful telegraph montage. The way the composer handles it is rather similar to the music heard in Telegraphing The News (track 15), which is perhaps why this first iteration of the idea was left off MCA’s original album. At any rate, it’s a gem: breezy woodwinds evoking telegraph rhythms with the Balto theme in solemn horns draped over them. Note that the use of the theme here deviates from its original attribution. Horner did this before, when he used the melody to express the exhilaration of dogsled racing in the score’s very first cue. He will do it again later in the score.
Every attempt to ship the antitoxins to Nome fail, whether it’s by ship or by plane. In the end, a train, it is hoped, will make it to Nenanak, where a dogsled team will have to collect them and take them back to the sick children of Nome.
11. The Journey Begins (28:25 – 33:25) (5:05)
A race is organized to select the dogs which will undertake the perilous trip to Nenanak, and to everyone’s surprise, Balto joins the candidates. This lengthy and exciting cue explodes as the race starts, and the Balto theme, assuming various heroic guises, plays in an action setting. Balto defeats the dogs and at 29:31, wins the race. Interestingly, this is Balto’s first victory acknowledged by the score, even though Horner prefers a lyrical string rendition while again confining the monumental brass statements to the race itself: Balto is far from having reached his full potential.
When Steele brutally hurts his paw, Balto howls out in pain, as a result of which he is deemed unreliable and the villain still gets the gig. At 30:36, the Balto theme disintegrates into plaintive strings and is subsequently given to the oboe as the disappointed hero turns his back on Jenna.
At 31:29, the rescue operation gets underway and accompanied by Horner’s soft children’s choir, Balto watches the departing dogs from a distance. The dogsled team’s trip to Nenanak is scored as a montage with only snippets of the Balto theme. (The score may be largely monothematic but this theme is truly everywhere.) On their way back to Nome, the dogs get bogged down in a violent snowstorm. Horner moves from foreboding horns to eerie strings and back to horns as Steele foolishly decides to push on even though he has already lost his way. The music fades out as news of the failed rescue mission reaches Nome.
12. The Epidemic’s Toll (33:51 – 35:28) (1:41) (previously unreleased)
Rosy is sick in bed and Jenna tries to comfort her. At 34:45, Horner uses high strings for a delicate and poignant comment on the town’s woodworker carving small coffins. The Balto theme enters as our hero decides to embark on a rescue mission of his own.
Please note: this cue was previously unreleased. The cue that was called The Epidemic’s Toll on the original album, is in fact the next track on the Intrada album.
13. To The Rescue (36:22 – 39:40) (3:26) (called The Epidemic’s Toll on the MCA album)
Balto, Boris and Muk and Luk set off in a desperate attempt to recover the antitoxins. Starting at 37:29, the tuba and clarinet comment on Boris’s sarcastic commentaries as Balto leaves scratch marks on trees so that he can find his way back to town. At 38:37, it’s back to the storm and Steele, who leads the whole team down a slippery cliff. With the musher unconscious, the team realize they have jumped from the frying pan into the fire, and the music fades out.
14. Grizzly Bear (40:42 – 45:58) (5:22)
Balto is alarmed by a dangerous presence lurking behind the trees. During the cue’s first fifteen seconds, Horner conjures a low, growling motif that moves rapidly up and down the scale, evoking a ghost that’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Next is some more Mickey Mousing for Boris and the polar bears, who are completely unaware of the fearsome grizzly bear. At 41:39, Boris looks up and the beast is revealed. During the ensuing fight, the bear motif does battle with the Balto theme in a cue that is full of intense and surprisingly dark action music. In a surprising move, Jenna comes to the rescue. The music becomes desperate when Balto is trapped in a frozen lake. Muk and Luk dive in and in a redemptive move, save Balto from certain death (44:41). Horner responds with a triumphant fanfare and after Balto has regained consciousness, Jenna warms him by covering him with her body. This would have been a great opportunity for a statement of the love theme. Instead, Horner supplies delicate writing for strings and flute.
However, the grizzly attack has left Jenna hurt and Balto orders Boris and the polar bears to take her back to Nome.
15. Telegraphing The News (46:57 – 49:11) (2:21)
The cue starts with the fifth and last statement of the love theme as Jenna says good-bye and gives Balto her bandana and a hug. Boris gives one last bit of good advice: “Let me tell you something, Balto: a dog cannot make this journey alone, but maybe a wolf can.” It’s a testament to Horner’s sense of scoring precision that he starts the Balto theme exactly at the start of the second part of the sentence (“but maybe a wolf can”).
At 47:55, the second telegraph montage starts and one minute later, Balto finally finds Steele’s dogsled team.
16. Steele’s Treachery (49:55 – 54:27) (4:37)
Steele is spoiling for a fight, itching to assert his authority over Balto and the sled dogs. Taking the moral high ground, Balto says he just wants to take the antitoxins to Nome. Horner accents Steele’s three attempts to get Balto to fight him, but a noble trumpet playing the Balto theme is there to remind us of our hero’s calm resolve. When Steele charges, Balto bumps his head on a rock and briefly passes out. Horner hits this moment with a cymbal crash (50:59). Half a minute later, Balto has Steele dangling from a cliff with only Jenna’s bandana to hang onto. He falls down and with no one else to turn to, the other sled dogs give Balto the reins. At 51:48, the Balto theme blossoms into a beautiful statement for strings, but it turns out to be a false victory.
Steele is not dead. He climbs back and betrays the team by leaving scratch marks on every tree he can get his claws on. Balto panics and leads the team into the remotest parts of the woods. At 52:56, there’s a wonderfully orchestrated moment (subtly dissonant woodwinds and strings) for an endlessly whirling and dizzying camera shot of the snowy skies. In a desperate attempt to get back on track, Balto goes down a cliff himself, taking the medicine along with him. The despair is heightened by frantic and agitated action music. In screenwriting lingo: All Is Lost.
17. Heritage Of The Wolf (56:35 – 1:02:25) (5:54)
This is the score’s standout set-piece in every respect: it is the most spectacular example of the operatic approach desired by both Horner and Spielberg, it is the cue upon which the entire architecture hinges and it is an instance of dramatic storytelling that sees the composer aiming much, much higher than you would expect from an animated movie geared towards children.
Having made it back to town and convinced that none of the other dogs ever will, Steele invents his own version of the facts and makes Balto look like the bad guy. Jenna will have none of it and calls him a liar. This is when the music starts. As Jenna picks up her bandana and leaves the barn, Horner brings in the Balto theme in an oboe statement which now plays under Rosy fighting for her life. Horner hands the theme to sad strings as the filmmakers cut to a shot of the snow-blown village and returns to oboe when Jenna recreates Balto’s aurora and lights up the icy face of a mountain, which she hope will serve as a beacon for Balto to be guided by. Horner appropriately returns to the enchanting instrumental colors of Balto’s Aurora.
At 57:50, we cut back to Balto crawling out of the snow. As he is struggling, we see him as a brave silhouette blacked out by the rising sun behind him and immediately afterwards as the defeated hero sinking down in the snow. In a flash of genius, Horner bridges both shots with a full statement of the Balto theme, its first four notes orchestrated for brass over the former (57:56) and its last four notes played by a sorrowful oboe (57:59) during the latter. (I’m not hiding my admiration here: it’s downright amazing just how fertile the marriage between music and visuals can be in the hands of a master.)
Mere seconds later, Horner brings back the wolf theme which he had judiciously set up in Not Dog Nor Wolf (Rescored). It will play for the remainder of the Dark Night of The Soul segment. Between 58:02 and 58:13, the theme and the notion it represents are there to comfort the wounded hero (a nuance conveyed exclusively by the music). At 58:13, a magical triangle accent signals the presence of the white wolf spirit. The appearance of its paw, at 58:15, is accented by another statement of the wolf theme, which has now moved up the scale (a singularly musical way of helping the story along and heightening the drama). The wolf spirit howls, reminding Balto of his origins, yet the hero still looks away. At 58:40, he notices the crate with the antitoxins and then looks up at the foreboding cliff that separates him from the sled dogs. The wolf theme moves ever higher up the scale, Horner creating an arc of tension that is briefly interrupted at 58:52. At this point, a magical touch supplied by the triangle and a soft string rendition of the wolf theme return the cue to the status of background music as Balto is reminded of Boris’s advice: “Let me tell you something, Balto: a dog cannot make this journey alone, but maybe a wolf can.” (The reprisal of the line drives the point home in a way that is perhaps a bit too much on the nose, but the composer was wise not to compete with it.)
At 59:04, Balto realizes that in order to reach his goals (bring back the medicine to town, win over Jenna) he must first come to terms with what he truly is. Horner captures this pivotal moment of transformation in truly breathtaking fashion: at 59:05 the wolf theme again takes center stage, but now orchestrated for proud horns. At 59:15, Horner adds solemn brass as Balto realizes his paw print matches the wolf spirit’s (a wonderfully visual way of showing that he finally embraces his lineage), and then allows the brass to build to an all-out operatic statement of the Balto theme (59:20) as our hero releases a proud and resounding howl. (Note that the cymbal crash accenting this howl is allowed to be heard just half a second before it, which only adds to the music’s considerable impact.) This is the very first time the Balto theme has been allowed to appear victoriously in the brass at the top of a crescendo. It will never sound quite this impressive again, and quite appropriately so, because as great stories teach us time and again, the greatest victory is over oneself. This thunderous and definitive statement of the Balto theme marks the end of the Dark Night of the Soul and propels the story into Act 3.
We cut from the redemptive moments down in the ravine to the dogs up top. Again, Horner bridges the two shots by using the same material: three brass notes that sound fanfare-like and proud at 59:36 yet muted and somber at 59:44. At 59:57 the dogs have heard Balto’s howl and they see him hauling up the crate. For the remainder of the cue, Horner indulges in a multitude of operatic impulses, broad strokes of emotional writing highlighted, predictably, by cymbal crash after cymbal crash.
If the third act is going to be successful, it needs to be fraught with difficulty and challenges. The most commonly used metaphor is this: having successfully entered the villain’s castle, the heroes make their way to the highest room only to discover that the princess they set out to rescue is no longer there. The villain is still one step ahead, and the heroes must try even harder. In this case, the damsel in distress is Rosy, and the villain is the storm and the treacherous terrain. Balto struggles mightily as he tries to negotiate the steep slope and is treated to cheers and another victorious outburst of his theme as he hauls the crate over the ledge. Immediately afterwards, at 1:00:45, it’s back to Nome post-haste, the vista shots a great excuse for the score to supply yet another brilliant variation of the Balto theme accented by tambourine and playing over exhilarating rhythm figures. Balto the wolf uses his heightened sense of smell and successfully distinguishes his own scratch marks on the trees from Steele’s, and it’s back to action. At 1:01:29, the music turns darker again (but preserves its forward momentum) as the sled team cross a treacherous ice bridge, which of course cannot support their weight (1:01:36). When the collapsing bridge threatens to take the whole sled team with it, Balto holds on to a branch that sticks out of the snow and the dogs desperately climb back up, inch by inch. It’s a pretty static ten seconds (1:01:57 – 1:02:09) but true to the operatic intent, Horner scores it as all-out action. The tension is relieved by another victorious horn statement of the Balto theme as the first part of the third act comes to an end.
18. Avalanche (1:02:41 – 1:03:26) (0:49) (previously unreleased)
As Balto’s tail brushes past its nose, one of the dogs gives out a sneeze, which in turn sets off a huge avalanche. For this cue and the next, Horner conjures busy action music, with virtuoso writing and a flurry of rapid notes that sound like a nod to John Williams. The team find shelter in a cave on the side of the road and are forced to follow it through. At 1:03:16, Horner does a brief but wonderful Bernard Herrmann pastiche (clarinet and oboe) as the cave’s inside is ominously lit by the team’s lamps, and the cue fades out. (There’s a great E.T. joke as the dogs pass behind stalagmites and ice formations that make them look all weird.)
19. Deadly Ice (1:04:13 – 1:05:00) (0:49) (previously unreleased)
The sounds and bumps of the wooden medicine crate dislodge the many stalactites hanging from the cave’s roof. As the team rush to the exit, Horner supplies more frantic action. At 1:04:20, there’s a short burst of the Balto theme’s first four notes as our hero keeps the crate from falling apart, but the music ends in dark chaos and the movie fades to black.
20. Balto Returns – Balto Brings The Medicine (1:05:54 – 1:10:40) (4:53)
Back in town, a gloomy Boris is startled by a distant howl. The re-scored film version of this cue starts with a rhythmic buildup in low brass before the Balto theme soars as the sled dogs appear over a hill, guided by Jenna’s aurora. So ecstatic and unrestrained and shamelessly undisciplined has the score become that James Horner actually uses a cymbal crash and a huge statement of the Balto theme for a shot of the rather dim marconist’s bulldog (1:06:35) getting stuck in the door (!) and a few seconds later, for the marconist lighting the lantern to signal the return of the sled team. Interrupting the celebratory mood, the section between 1:06:50 and 1:07:30 reprises the mix of piano, muted trumpets and tuba Horner used to ridicule the gaudy Steele in Balto Sees Jenna. Here, the material plays under Steele’s final demise as he is snubbed by all his admirers. The next minute and a half is all musical fireworks again with repeated and elated statements of the Balto theme as the hero rushes into town, is welcomed back by the townspeople and the animals, and watches as the antitoxins are administered. Horner supplies a beautiful passage for solo violin as Rosy’s eyes open and she gets up from her bed. At 1:09:17, a horn plays as Balto sees the musher’s hat lying on a chair, and at 1:09:25, the oboe plays the Balto theme as our hero hands it to Rosy. At 1:09:45, Balto is reunited with Jenna. (Again, Horner had a wonderful opportunity to allow his love theme to come to fruition here, but he uses the Balto theme instead.) The score’s final moment of glory starts at 1:10:12, when a cymbal crash starts an ecstatic ascending movement for strings, brass and choir as the camera pans up to the skies and the aurora transforms into a howling wolf. However, the shape of the northern lights changes again and transitions into the live-action Blaze, the husky owned by old Rosy’s granddaughter. During the transition to live action, the ascending movement magically dissolves into soothing strings and the music fades out. It’s another awe-inspiring example of the wondrous interaction that can exist between music and visuals.
Please note that the more familiar original film version of the cue is part of Intrada’s alternates.
21. Reach For The Light (Theme From Balto) (1:11:55 – 1:17:35) (5:46)
(oboe opening previously unreleased)
When Rosy and her granddaughter finally find Balto’s statue in Central Park, the score’s last cue starts. The Intrada album has one small treat for us, the “Solo Bridge” Horner composed for the movie’s very last shot. As Douglass Fake writes in the liner notes: “This very brief but extraordinarily haunting cue was scored for four oboes playing without additional accompaniment, intoning their idea in unison but staggering their entrances ever so slightly, giving the cue a unique reverb-like quality that beautifully underscores the final closing film image that segues to the end credits. The effect is sublime.”
Apart from this bridge, both versions of the end title song were featured on the original album and both appear on Intrada’s complete edition as well.
In the amazing nine-year period stretching from An American Tail (1986) to Balto (1995), James Horner composed superlative scores for no fewer than eight animated movies. Balto was the last of them, another shining tribute to a scoring philosophy which has now largely fallen by the wayside – but which has not been replaced by anything even remotely as valid. It is not hard to see what attracted James Horner to animation: the bigger-than-life stories, the huge canvas offered to a composer looking to flex his musical muscles and endless opportunities for music so extroverted it becomes downright operatic. Get a taste of the Intrada album; you are guaranteed to wolf it down!
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