The Red Balloon (1956)

The Red Balloon is a short film from 1956 that runs for slightly more than 30 minutes, but is one of the most delightful 30 minutes of cinema I have experienced.  Set in 1950s Paris, it tells a story of a relationship between a boy and his red balloon.  It is the only short film to ever be nominated for and win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The movie opens in the morning with a beautiful shot of Paris in the background as a small boy, Pascal Lamorisse (the director’s young son), walks to school.  He stops on his way down a flight of stairs and climbs a lamp post.  At the top, we discover he has spotted a red balloon tied to the lamp post that he unties and takes with him on his way to school.  At first it seems like a normal, ordinary balloon, but when he brings it home and his mother tosses it out the window, only for us to see that it lingers outside Pascal’s widow until he comes back to collect it, that the balloon is in fact its own character in the story.  What follows is a touching friendship between Pascal and balloon.

This short film perfectly captures the imagination and wonder of the child protagonist.  Its magical realism and the inventiveness of making the balloon an actual character with a personality no doubt has influenced the kind of imagination we see in Pixar and other companies that give inanimate objects life in their animated feature and short films.  There is an innocence on display here that is a real treat.  Pascal hides the balloon under random strangers’ umbrellas when it is raining on the walk home from school.  Pascal and the balloon play a sort of hide and seek from one another as they go through the streets of Paris.

As the film progresses, outside forces in the form of school teacher and bullies present mounting threats to the red balloon.  The school teacher is comically exasperated by the balloon and presents no serious threat, but the bullies and their slingshots present a legitimate danger.  The ending is moving and poignant.

It is available to watch in its entirety on YouTube:

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

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