Turn Back the Clock
The Red Balloon
Distributed By: Janus Films
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was in elementary school, morning recess meant many things. Sometimes it meant listening to classical music by Beethoven, Mozart or Bach. Sometimes it meant special presentations by invited guests. But my favorite morning recess would consist of movie shorts like Top Cat, Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse and more. There were two shorts that made a lasting impression on me. One of those shorts featured dancing tools - I've never seen it since although I've tried extremely hard to find it. The other short featured a young boy and a red balloon. I finally found The Red Balloon (or Le ballon rouge) the other day on YouTube.
The Red Balloon is a French film created by Albert Lamorisse in 1956. The movie stars Pascal Lamorisse as the lead character, a young boy who finds a large red balloon tied to a lamppost while on his way to school. The boy rescues the balloon, untying it from the post and carrying it with him to school. The boy protects the balloon, even going as far as making certain that the balloon stays dry despite pouring rain, placing the balloon under umbrellas while the boy gets wet. Unfortunately, upon arriving home, the boy's guardian makes it known that the balloon is not welcome in the house, putting it out the window. Amazingly, instead of flying away, the balloon stays outside the window until the boy lets it back in.
The rest of the thirty-four minute short features the various adventures of the boy and his red balloon, which we now see is a sentient being and follows the boy around like a puppy, playing games and protecting him from harm. The last few minutes of the short are dramatic - I won't say in what way as it would give the movie's ending away.
The Red Balloon won a number of awards including an Oscar for best original screenplay and the Palme d'Or for short films at the Cannes Film Festival. The most incredible thing about this film is that it has very little dialogue. I was won over simply by the visuals and the musical score that told the heartwarming tale of a young boy and his new best friend...who just happens to be a red balloon. In thirty-plus short minutes, the movie teaches us about loneliness, friendship, love, sadness and extreme joy.
Watching this movie again after all these years, I was struck by the enjoyment watching this simple short from my youth brought me. I found the movie to be just as enjoyable for me now as it was when I was a kid. I was amazed at the special effects that allowed us to believe that the balloon had a mind of its own. After all, this movie was created in 1956, yet you don't notice any tiny strings or chords pulling the balloon in the direction the director wants it to go. Even as an adult, you can almost believe in the balloon's sentient nature.
I highly recommend The Red Balloon to families with young children. Parents will enjoy watching their kids stare in open-jawed amazement while watching this film. The kids will probably want a red balloon of their own and I'm certain that the parents of any child who watched this film when they were very young had to explain as to why their balloons didn't behave as the one in The Red Balloon does. An adorable movie that stands the test of time.