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The E.T. Easter Egg You Probably Missed in Animated Classic Balto
Revisiting the films of your childhood can be a pretty rewarding experience. Not only does it bring you back to a time when life was much simpler, but it can also yield fresh meanings out of the story and imagery — be it a mature innuendo or a cheeky little reference to popular culture — illuminated by your expanded knowledge of the world.
This happened to us quite recently during a rewatch of 1995's Balto (now streaming on Peacock), the Steven Spielberg-produced animated feature centered around the brave team of sled dogs who helped deliver a much-needed shipment of medicine to the isolated town of Nome, Alaska in 1925. This perilous journey saved a lot of lives and inspired the creation of the annual Iditarod competition.
Did you catch this E.T. Easter egg in 1995's Balto?
Around the 1-hour mark, Balto (voiced by Kevin Bacon) and the other canines seek refuge from an oncoming avalanche inside an ice cave. Before jagged icicles begin to fall from the ceiling, one of the team members — Star (Robbie Rist) — briefly amuses himself amongst the frozen structures, which distort his face and body into bizarre shapes. The third exaggeration gives him the exact appearance of E.T. and Star even does an approximation of the alien's croaky, drawn out pronunciation of the word "Ouch."
"I actually storyboarded that," Balto director Simon Wells reveals over a Zoom call with SYFY WIRE. "I was storyboarding going through the ice cavern and it just suddenly occurred to me. I was drawing this stuff like, ‘Oh, it'd be fun if there's a funhouse mirror effect of the icicles.’ And then I just thought, ‘What if he just goes [makes E.T. noise]?’"
Wells continues: "I was a little nervous because we were throwing that to Spielberg, and we're literally pastiching one of his most successful movies. I didn't know how he'd react, but he actually loved the gag. He thought it was great and let us keep it in. But yeah, it was just a silly gag that came along. While you're drawing you go, 'Oh, I could do this!’"
How different is Balto from other talking dog movies?
If you ask Mr. Wells, Balto wasn't meant to stand apart from canine classics like Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians.
"I think it's very much in the same tradition," he says. "The actors who are playing the voices of the dogs don't play it any differently than they would if they were literally being that hero onscreen. We always considered the dogs as fully rounded, complete, effectively human characters. I think there were some stylistic differences, but it’s very much in the 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp tradition."