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Juuchan17

World Class Animation Critic
Location: Virginia
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About me:

Currently, I am a student at Community College. Not sure what I'm going to do afterwards, but I'm leaning toward working with computers.

During my free time, I love to draw my favorite characters, read manga, watch anything that is good and animated, and the such. I also like to write fanfiction and poetry, which I am hoping to write an original story one day.

Interests:

computers, cooking, writing, drawing [or making any type of art], animation

Animation that I love:

Any magical girl anime
anything Disney [no really. (almost) ANYTHING.]
the Balto trilogy
Jungledyret Hugo series

Website:

Juuchan17\'s dA [art gallery]

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Latest Animation Reviews

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holiday animation Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey © Rankin-Bass
Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey
Rated it: 3
posted: Dec 15, 2015
I am a sucker for the Rankin-Bass specials, especially the stop-motion and traditional animated ones that gave us the backstories and adventures of a few notable holiday icons that we love today: Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, and of course, "the most famous reindeer of all" Rudolph. However, not many consider the true meaning of the season - the birth of Jesus, at least it's important to the Christian demographic - as a subject for a Christmas special, but Rankin-Bass was one of the first mainstream companies to make an acknowledgement through a couple of notable "Animagic" shorts: "The Little Drummer Boy" in 1968 and the focus of this review, "Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey" nine years later.

The story, told by Santa's donkey, Spieltoe, explains why Santa keeps a donkey, as well as who the first Christmas donkey was - in this case, it's Nestor - the little steed that would play a small yet major role in the Nativity story.

It's nicely animated in the "Animagic" style of stop-motion animation, and the character designs work for this tale meant for children. The voices fit well and are quite tolerable. The few songs that are in the special are a nice touch too, similar to the songs in "The Small One": the title song and its ending reprise make for great bookends as well as a storytelling device, and "Don't Laugh and Make Somebody Cry" [a song that's unfortunately edited out of television viewings] is a decent and welcome montage song that reminds viewers that it's really not okay to make fun of someone.

[MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD! You've been warned! Either way, you should already know what happens in this story - it's "The Small One" with the plot of "Rudolph" in it.]

Much like Disney's animated short a year later, "The Small One", "Nestor" is very much a Christmas special that focuses on the story of the donkey that would carry Mary to Bethlehem to eventually give birth to Jesus. However, the one difference between the two is that "Nestor" is much like a Rudolph story - Nestor is the oddball of the donkeys and is constantly teased for his long ears, yet halfway through the short, the cherub Tilly tells him that he is meant to do something... but clearly we all know exactly what that something is. It isn't until the last 5 minutes that we see exactly what it is that he can do that makes him so special, but it does make sense why only he is able to play this part.

What doesn't make sense is the scene once Nestor returns home - at first, everyone hated him for his ears, hence why he was eventually kicked out of the stable, and yet at the end after Nestor's destiny is fulfilled, he is lovingly welcomed back with cheer and joy from both the other donkeys and the stable owner, Olaf. Is it because he allowed for Jesus to eventually be born? Is it because they actually felt bad about what they did and learned their lesson?

NOPE. We never get a good answer and it leaves me baffled, especially with Olaf. He even said that he didn't care if Nestor froze to death, and yet after Nestor does his job, he's actually glad he came back alive? Sure, it's a 24 minute short, and I understand that it's impossible to put a lot of development in that little amount of time, but to change that quickly stuns me. Thankfully we don't get a sequel from this bible-based story.

However, the heart of this special is in the right place when it comes to the main story it tells and is focused on: Nestor's arc that leads to Jesus' birth. Nestor is the bullied victim and yet he seems to find others that love him so much regardless of how odd he is - his mother, TIlly, and even Mary [who loved his gentle eyes]. There is a scene that is short but very much a tear-jerker, but it does make sure that the titular character reaches his destined place. If anything, it is love that fuels this special at the right moments, though you may need some tissues.

Unlike Rankin-Bass's version of "Rudolph", Nestor is a much more likeable and relatable character, as much as the story seems like a biblical Rudolph tale. In "Rudolph" [the Rankin-Bass one], mostly ALL of the characters - even the great Saint Nick himself - shun and shame Rudolph for his nose despite the fact that it wasn't his fault he was born this way. Nestor's story at least reminds viewers that what makes one different is what makes us special while still having this sense of unconditional love about it. One of my favorite things about the special is the message that Tilly has for Nestor - "Your ears can do wondrous things no other ears can do. The sounds they hear will guide you on a path that's straight and true, and then you will save another, as your mother once saved you." - and one could say it's like a faith-filled message to take from the short, but I say it's more a mix of everything this story is about: one's unique skills being what could make a difference for another [or in this case, millions, if you think about it in a spiritual way]. However, it was a nice sign of respect at the ending though, mixing both the legend of Santa Claus with the Christian roots of the holiday together into one heartwarming moment that I honestly liked.

Overall, "Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey" is a well-presented Christmas special with a standard message that works for everyone, regardless of faith. As I'd said in my "Small One" review, "Nestor" is a typical story that is still good, but is not as good to me as the Disney short.

MY RATING: 3 STARS

flash animation Kitty Cat Dance © g-shack
Kitty Cat Dance
Rated it: 2
posted: Apr 21, 2014
When I'm not watching animation, I will admit that I like cats. You could say that I love cats in general, so anything featuring a cat gets a thumbs up from me.

However, I'm... uh, I'm at a loss for words as to what to call this Flash thing about a dancing cat. Is it good? Is it bad? All it is is a catchy hook with the song and the simple visuals of a dancing bipedal cat work with it. And it DOES work.

It's basic and weird... and compared to the web animation of today, it's not aged well. It's very vintage Flash animation but I've seen better things from around the same time too.

Still, it does manage a smile every now and again from me. Most animation fans probably can give this a single viewing and be done with it, but I guess it'll amuse the younger crowd for more than one viewing [and probably get the song stuck in their heads too].

MY RATING: 2 STARS

animated cartoon The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue
Rated it: 1
posted: Sep 02, 2013
[NOTE: This is a re-vamped review, as my opinions over time may have changed since the previous review that was posted a while ago. Be warned, this will get lengthy.

Also, POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD! Just a quick heads-up if you haven't seen it or the previous movie yet... but you should have seen the first one by now. I'd stick with that one, personally.]

Some movies shouldn't have sequels. This film is the reason why some movies should just avoid the temptation of making a sequel, period.

That being said, here's "The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue".

Apparently, the plot is something that makes no sense compared to the first film: Nicodemus, the former leader of the rats, prophesied that NIMH would threaten their kind once again, but one of Jonathan Brisby's sons would save them. Enter Timothy Brisby, the runt of the Brisby family and now "chosen one" of the movie, as he is sent to Thorn Valley to train and prepare for that destined day... though no one knows what exactly he's meant to do yet. After meeting a female mouse named Jenny that seeks help to save her family not only from NIMH but also a mysterious plot that is set to occur during the next full moon, Timmy rushes with her to put his newfound skills to the test.

But the movie is much worse and less entertaining than this summary manages to be. Not even the back cover describes it any better.

First off, the animation is very cartoony and cheap. Also, character designs are off-model, even the updated "older" appearances of the Brisby family [Cynthia, what did you do - go on a cheese bender or something? *shudder*]. The backgrounds are mostly not good, though I do like some of the shadows and colors in certain settings. Still, the animation is not as good as some of the really bad Disney DTV sequels or the last sequel MGM made - All Dogs Go To Heaven 2. It's very unmemorable altogether, much unlike its predecessor.

Do you see what you're doing to me, NIMH 2? Argh...

The story, as I said earlier, is pure crap... but it could have worked if better developed; still, let's talk briefly about the problems:

- The whole thing with Nicodemus' prophecy was just added for the sequel. There wasn't anything in the first that said anything about this, as he only spoke with Mrs. Brisby in the middle and that was it. Plus, he may have been magical in the first film, but prophesying stuff like this was probably something he never did [though he should have seen what the ending of NIMH 1 was if this was true] nor was it proven. So it's crap. Also, it leads the whole "chosen one" plot to being really terrible in the end, and speaking of which...

- Wait, why is Timmy the chosen one and not Martin? Yeah, this is one of the biggest deals in the entire plot. Five minutes in, Martin even mentions that it's not fair for Timmy to be chosen and that he [Martin] has a destiny too. I agree with him there [mainly on the latter; prophecies are stupid like that, Martin.], and honestly, the film would have been cool to develop these two as brothers [almost like what Dreamworks' "The Prince of Egypt" did with Rameses and Moses] instead of the travesty that ended up occurring. Also, why did it have to be a son? Why not one of the girls, Cynthia or Theresa? I mean, the last savior of the rats was a female... and she was a mouse herself - I'm talking about their mother, Mrs. Brisby here. Why do they glorify her husband so darn much and yet they don't even bother to remember her one bit? Shocker: The ending reveal doesn't help any either. It just makes no sense and it's terribly sad.

- Timmy's not really a good character, and I blame the story for that. Okay, maybe at the beginning I could see some charm in him, because think about it: he's the youngest child fathered by the one that this group of rats worship [I'm not using this figuratively; they actually have a statue of him in their town square. Wow.] as their hero, but he's also runty and was near-death in the last movie. So... the rats are just going to consider that he's the destined hero when Nicodemus never stated which son was the actual "chosen one"? Shoot, all the plot holes - they're all over the place!

- New characters... why are they in this movie? OK, I can understand why Jenny's in the film [Mainly she's the reason why Timmy goes to NIMH. Also she's his Romantic-Sue, but meh, I honestly would consider her "Best Character" in this movie.], but Jeremy the crow gets a sidekick in a caterpillar named Cecil, NIMH throws us a bad Christopher Lloyd impersonator as a NIMH scientist and a couple of talking cats, and the third act just... throws things out the window.

- Canon and script consistency is terrible. There's a couple of shout-outs to the first film [including the opening sequence before the title screen] as well as some dialogue, but they're either wrong or just forgotten several training montage segments later. It makes you wonder if the writer/s watched the first one properly before penning the plot. It could have been nice if things were right info-wise.

- The... last third of the movie. Just that. I would say more, but it'd be giving away the biggest twist that is a huge "what the heck" and yet the most entertaining thing in the movie. I dare you to watch it just to see what it is.

Voice-wise, I hate to say that it wasn't that bad. I've heard worse, but gah, I'm surprised to hear some notable voices in this... and not at all surprised to hear a couple of familiar ones. The only returning voices are Arthur Malet as Mr. Ages and Dom Deluise as Jeremy, and both are spot-on [though Ages is less crotchety than before] and actually enjoyable. Timmy is played mostly by Ralph Macchio, and he's okay, though I'd prefer he never sing again... but I'm getting ahead of myself. The other mains - Jenny [Hynden Walsh], Justin [how did William H. Macy get into this movie?] and Eric Idle in a surprise role [he's the most entertaining, honestly] - aren't badly cast either. Other notable names include Debi Mae West [Mrs. Brisby], Doris Roberts [Auntie Shrew] and even the original voice of Fievel from An American Tale [Martin], and I wonder how they ended up signing on to this movie; I will admit that they try well to sound like the original voices [Martin, not so much], so I guess that's good...?

Also, there's way too many songs in this movie. All of them are bad, though the lyrics in a couple of them aren't too shabby. Timmy's song as he ages would have been my favorite if the actors [three of them, ending with Timmy's older voice, Ralph Macchio] could actually sing. Eric Idle's song in the third act, "Just Say Yes", is just... fun yet out-of-place. Again, the other two or three songs in this movie are just bad sequel fodder. The real surprise about this movie's soundtrack is that... there really is a soundtrack! Just don't buy it though - it's not worth the money or the hard copy/downloads.

So, is there actually anything good about NIMH 2? Well, I like Jenny's character and the third act is out of left field and quite entertaining. Plus, hearing good voice talents isn't too bad and Jeremy is one of the few characters that hasn't changed much in appearance [personality, on the other hand... he sorta did.]. Also, I will admit I laughed at some of the lines though they made no sense in retrospect, but that was it.

Overall, I honestly can't recommend this sequel, not even for NIMH fans. If you want a better sequel, I highly suggest the two follow-ups in book form that were written by Robert O'Brien's daughter [Jane Leslie Conly], which make for some interesting continuations and it does have one major thing in common with NIMH 2: Timmy remains the important character and has to save the day. The books do it better, and I highly recommend them over this waste of nearly an hour-and-a-half. Also, the original film and book ["Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH"] are much better than this movie, but I'm sure you knew that already.

My original rating was the lowest possible - 1 STAR - and after rewatching it, I was thinking about giving it an extra half just for the sheer what-the-heck factor that I was left with by the third act. Again, if the writing was smoother and if they used animation and designs that were true to the original, this really could have been something better than the worst of the Disney sequels... but it's not. So, it's not really worth the trouble changing my rating one bit, no matter how much of an accidental guilty pleasure this film really is for me... and I'm still a huge fan of the original.

MY 'NEW' RATING: 1 STAR

animated cartoon Balto III: Wings of Change © Universal
Balto III: Wings of Change
Rated it: 2.5
posted: Aug 08, 2013
[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 II: Wolf Quest © Universal
Balto II: Wolf Quest
Rated it: 3.5
posted: Aug 06, 2013
[NOTE: This is a re-vamped review, as my opinions over time have changed since the previous review that was posted nearly 10 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.]

When I first learned of a sequel to one of my favorite movies back in 2001, I will admit that I was feeling pretty excited. I loved "Balto" and the history it was based on, so being an avid fangirl of the series, I honestly wanted more. Once 2002 came around and the DVD came out, I finally got a chance to see it... and I hate to admit that I had some strong disliking to it, mostly of the plot and the animation. However, the more I watched it since then, the more my opinions have changed... surprisingly for the better!

And now I'd like to explain to you why... but first, the plot!

The plot is typical-sequel mush: Balto and Jenna welcome a litter of six puppies, but one of these pups is obviously not like the others. The different pup, Aleu, ends up without a human family, and after a near-death experience with a hunter, she runs away from home after learning about how she looks wild like a wolf... and like her father's maternal side. Thus begins a journey of her finding her place in the world, away from the ever watchful eyes of her overprotective father.

Oh, and Balto's been having nightmares about running on ice, seeing eye-glowing wolves in a pack and having a raven chasing after him.

Does this little tidbit have anything to do with his daughter's plot of self-discovery?

Spoiler answer: YES. Most definitely yes.
Non-Spoiler answer: Eh, sorta...? But not until after Aleu runs away.

Being a sequel, the animation is sub-par and obviously outsourced. The backgrounds and many of the imagery used in later songs are actually the best visual stuff in the movie. There are goofs and flaws aplenty, though. Marking mistakes, coloring mistakes, just awkward-looking movements and walks... the list goes on. It's not going to be first-movie good animation-wise, but is it the worst animation I've seen for a DTV sequel? Oh, heck no! There's even some obvious CGI usage [mainly for a totem pole and some other images], and it's not bad... but it could have been rendered better to that it didn't stick out like a sore thumb. Still, it's passable to me.

The character designs are actually nice, especially for Aleu. I think her markings were supposed to be a shout-out to Balto's original design in the first movie [check out Balto Source or Google "balto storyboards" to see what I mean], because really... she looks like Balto was supposed to look! I just have to gush about that since that would be a good thing to know if it was proven to be true! I can't say the same for her siblings though, because half of them are nothing more than Jenna-clones, one is a red, less-scruffy version of her [Aleu], and the last is the most unique... and we learn nothing about any of them [except for names of two of the pups in the end credits and one in the next movie; what about the other two?]. It's a shame, really... but at least one of them gets some exploration in the next movie [not as much as Aleu does in this movie, but...]! Also, Balto's eyes are white [which, if you watched the first movie, should be yellow]. Just one major flaw that I am willing to gripe about.

The story is very standard for a sequel too - spawn of main coupling from the first movie [in this case, Aleu - not her siblings... well, not until one of the Jenna-clones gets a co-starring role in the third film... but I'm getting ahead of myself] runs away from home to a life that their parents are keeping from them, and in the end, the spawn returns home, learning an important lesson that changes them and accepting their old life and what they learned on their discovery-journey. "Wolf Quest" follows this formula to a point... but then twists it. If you don't believe me, watch the film again, and you'll understand... especially the last 15 mins. I swear I have to give the writer props for surprising me with how the movie ended; I expected one ending... but got something else that I ended up satisfied with after multiple viewings. Props, you guys. Total props. Also, there's the box the puppies were in during a early scene and an awkward line that Balto says to a group of wolves near the end - thank you for those little shout-outs, movie! I knew that the writer still watched the first movie somehow!

FYI: This movie was written by Dev Ross, a writer for Disney's first DTV sequel ["The Return of Jafar", which is actually good, if you think about who it's really about] and the first three Land Before Time sequels [which I also consider as... better than the later ones]. Just letting you know who wrote this.

Character-wise, the old characters from the first movie are quite... dull. Given that it's not from the original writers, it's bound to be quite off. Just watch the Land Before Time sequels or most other Disney sequels to see what I mean [given who we have as the writer... *ahem*] or wait until the third Balto movie... but again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Balto is somehow still living like an outcast, despite being called a hero by the end of his namesake film and this taking place a little time after the ending. He's also still teased for being part-wolf [ahem... you mean, HALF-wolf, right? Honestly, the movie keeps the 'part-wolf' thing all throughout. What gives?], and he's ashamed of revealing his wild heritage to Aleu until after she's nearly killed. Some 'Father of the Year' you are, Balto. He's very boring here, at least until he actually chooses to go out and find her after realizing he waited too long to tell her [naw, really?]. I will say that I like the choice of Maurice LaMarche for his voice. He's no Kevin Bacon, but he adds a gruff feel to the half-wild hero. It took me some time to like it, but it works to make him sound more like he has aged and matured since the last film [though I'd probably blame becoming a dad and lacking good night's sleep for the aging part].

Jenna, voiced by Ariel herself [Jodi Benson], is downgraded to 'typical sequel spouse, left to wait at home'. She does nothing... and even when she offers to join Balto in his search for THEIR child, she is stopped. TWICE. Why, movie, why? This would have been a perfect opportunity for a family adventure, but they probably left her in Nome because she's not wolf enough or some stupid plot-purposed reason like that. Still... that was a major blow, especially after the first movie where she actually did something that HELPED Balto in the end. Again, I'm getting ahead of myself; I'll save the rest for my revamped "Balto" review. At least she sounds good, I'll give her that much... but she really should have done more story-wise than just giving Balto some heirs.

Boris, now voiced by Roger Rabbit [Charles Fleischer], is a bit more of a knowledgeable goose than before when it comes to Balto's dreams and with raising Aleu, though he is downgraded to 'puppy-sitter' and 'Aleu's chew toy'. The polar bears, Muk and Luk [now voiced by Timon... from the Timon/Pumbaa TV series, Kevin Schon] are simply pointless balls of fluff for Aleu to playfully pounce on. Again, they do a little bit and are soon gone from the plot about 30 minutes in. Again, they don't sound bad here.

However, this is Aleu's movie [despite Balto's name in the title from the get-go] and the film focuses on her, developing her character as time goes on. She starts out cute and adorable, then turns whiny, stupidly-naive and stubborn [Like father, like daughter? Oh yes on the stubborn part.], and suddenly just matures as the plot nears the climax. Her voice gets annoying at times, and that's a given when it's Eliza Thornberry at her squeakiest. Yes, Lacey Chabert is our female lead. I will admit that it grows on you by the end, and she doesn't completely suck as Aleu. She makes her curious and very child-like, though you can hear the seriousness in her tone once she gets into the subplot at the end---

Wait, I didn't explain the subplot? Huh.

Well, this subplot gets into the actual 'Wolf Quest' of "Wolf Quest". I won't go into deep detail, but it actually has wolves and a couple of interesting new characters that Aleu and Balto encounter. If you listen [and in some places, look] carefully during the two other songs ["Who You Really Are" and "The Grand Design"], it helps explain the subplot well enough that you might figure out the ending. I didn't catch it until much later, but I think the subtle addition of these little hints just works if you notice them.

Speaking of the songs, they are actually really good here. The first song - and perhaps the theme to our main character, Aleu, and the movie itself - "Taking You Home", is just a simple, soft song that we first hear at the pivotal scene when Balto and Jenna watch their puppies receive new owners and a new family. It's a touching scene, one that I'll admit I shed a tear to, especially at the end when puppy!Aleu is waving goodbye to the last Jenna-clone puppy that was chosen, not realizing what we all know: that she'll never be chosen herself. That is seriously deep... and quite sad, if you think about it. The song's melody comes up again at another pivotal moment at the end [I cried then too], and the song is repeated during the end credits, easily making this a major theme overall.

The second song, "Who You Really Are", is sung by Muru [voiced by Peter MacNicol, sung by Rob Paulsen, who sings amazingly high here. I am just... amazed, seriously.] to a confused and lost Aleu. It's a beautiful chant-like tune, one that has colorful images to boot and a driving force to kick Aleu's quest into high gear.

The final song, "The Grand Design", is one that two wolves 'sing' [though they are more talking than singing; a chorus does actually sing in the song, but this is more focused on the two lead voices]. One wolf, Nava [voiced by the late David Carradine], sings basically that things change naturally and 'we' [the royal 'we', mind you] are all a part of a bigger purpose, a grand design; the other wolf, Niju [voiced by Mark Hamill], is the closest thing to an antagonist and rebels against change, saying that 'we are the masters of our own design', the masters of our own destinies and future by the choices we make. For a short song-speak near the movie's climatic finale, this is actually a deep message for a kid's movie, and for a sequel at that! It really is a great set-up for concluding the plot and the subplot as well.

The music is wonderful too, using Inuit themes and instruments to set the tone for mysticism and adventure. It's nice to hear something different that really fits the story and the atmosphere, as this story is very much like a mystic journey for our main wolf-dogs - a vision quest... or as the subtitle says, a 'wolf quest'. It's not trying to be a new-age sort of thing, though it feels like it is, but... it just works with the wild scenery, all the Inuit and lupine symbolism and the characters themselves, as well as the basic journeys that the story focuses on.

Overall, this looks like a crappy follow-up to a theatrical release film... but if you look beyond the animation flaws and character development failures throughout, you'll find a tale of learning one's heritage and the self-discovery journey between a father and his daughter that really is something good for the whole family to enjoy.

I would be biased as a Balto fan if I said this was my favorite movie in the Balto trilogy, but it actually is the truth: "Balto II: Wolf Quest" is by far the best movie in the series. I once disliked it for the flaws but loved the main heroine, but now, I love it all, flaws and everything. I can't give it the full 4 stars though, as it does still have noticeable flaws that hurt the relationship and the characters, but it's not terrible enough for a three, not like my original review.

So, the score gets an extra half-star for being more than what I expected it to be. Howl on, "Wolf Quest".

MY 'NEW' RATING: 3.5 STARS

 
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