If there’s one celebratory item that we have all encountered in our life, it would be that of the balloon. Thoughts of balloons will often conjure up memories of birthday parties, circuses, and school dances. The balloon is almost so ubiquitous in its connection to parties that you might even consider such an event to not be a party if there aren’t any balloons. Surprisingly enough, even though we all have many balloon-related memories, there are very few films that focus on these inflatable decorations as a main point of their plot. Sure, they might play a supporting role in various settings, but the number of movies that revolve around balloons could probably be counted on a single hand. That being said, there are at least two, which is why this week’s two films are ones that use balloons as their main plot device.
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours
I would wager that one of the most difficult things to do while holding a balloon would be to frown. That being said, oftentimes a trait of old men is that of frowning. Perhaps this is why the dichotomy of the two is beautifully mixed together in the 2009 Pixar film, Up. While other films over the years have shown travelling by balloon as part of its plot (most notably the 1956 Best Picture, Around the World in 80 Days), most of these have been with a single, hot air balloon. Very rarely are clusters of balloons used to travel long distances. Not only are helium balloons unable to carry that much weight, but the cost to fill enough balloons with said helium is exorbitantly prohibitive. However, with the physics and economics-defying ability of animation, an old widower is able to lift his entire house and fly all the way to South America.
From a young age, Ellie and Carl (Ed Asner) first met through an event in an abandoned house involving a single balloon. Years pass and they experience a loving, if not tragic life together as husband and wife. When Ellie suddenly dies, Carl decides to honor her memory by finally visiting the alleged location of their mutual hero: Charles F. Muntz (Christopher Plummer). In order to do this, he ties a multitude of colorful balloons to his house and uses it to fly to South America and Paradise Falls. Arriving just short of his destination after a thunderstorm puts him off course, Carl sets forth to carry the floating house over to the falls. Along the way, he and Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young boy who was inadvertently brought along for the ride, find a strange bird whom Russell names Kevin. They then meet Dug, a simple dog working under Muntz. Having now met his disappointing hero, Carl decides to do the right thing.
The Red Balloon
Length: 34 minutes / 0.57 hours
The most iconic version of the balloon is the red one. While many balloons come in a full spectrum of colors and shapes, the inverted teardrop in bright fire-truck red is the go-to image that we conjure up when we think of a balloon. It’s no wonder that many instances of the red balloon have made it into our popular culture. From “99 Red Balloons”, the English version of the German anti-war song, to Billy’s Balloon, an animated short by Don Hertzfeldt, this symbol of childhood permeates our culture in many ways. The simplicity of such a plot device allows for some interesting films, no matter their length. In the aforementioned Billy’s Balloon, we find a sentient balloon (and its brethren) interacting with a young child. This is no doubt a somewhat more twisted re-imagining of the 1956 French short, Le Ballon Rouge (i.e. The Red Balloon).
On a day like any other, Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse) is heading to school when he finds the eponymous Red Balloon and decides to play with it. After some time interacting with the helium-filled friend, Pascal starts to notice that the balloon does what it wants. In fact, continuing his march toward school, he finds that the balloon follows him. This curious phenomenon is noticed by everyone he passes until he finally arrives at his destination. At school, the balloon causes a disturbance that leads to Pascal being sent to the principal’s office. After school, he and the balloon meet a girl who has a similar, sentient Blue Balloon. Unfortunately, the attention brought to Pascal’s plastic friend causes some bullies to pop the balloon out of jealousy. In an act of community, all the remaining balloons in Paris come to comfort Pascal at his loss, lifting him up for a ride into the sky.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 floating flicks