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Film / The Red Balloon

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The Red Balloon (French: Le Ballon rouge) is a 1956 34-minute short film about a boy and his balloon. It was directed by Albert Lamorisse.

One day, a young boy named Pascal finds a red balloon. The balloon is actually alive and has a sentient mind of its own. Thus, they set off an adventure in Paris.

While a simplistic film made for children and to preserve the Ménilmontant section of Paris in film, critics noted the beautiful cinematography, woodwind score, and idealist allegories in a post-World War II Paris. It is noted as an art film.

The film became a sensation in the United States especially with the children. Schools often show the film in cafeterias and the film, for a while, became the largest selling non-running theatrical print.

The film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It is the only short film to win any of the five major Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). It also won the Palme d'Or for short films at Cannes.

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It is also available on The Criterion Collection.

Compare White Mane, another A Boy and His X featurette by Albert Lamorisse that is light on dialogue.


Tropes used:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The film ends with the balloons taking Pascal into the sky. Where he goes is left to the imagination.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: It becomes clear that the balloon is sentient and is following the boy around.
  • Balloonacy: In the ending, as not nearly enough balloons take the boy flying.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The balloon sinks to the ground and is popped by one of the bullies. But all the other balloons of Paris arrive and take the boy for a ride.
  • A Boy and His X: The film is about a boy and his balloon and their friendship.
  • Children Are Innocent: Pascal and the girl with the blue balloon play it straight. It's averted hard by the Gang of Bullies who pop his balloon.
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  • Distracted by the Sexy: The only time in the movie when the balloon leaves the boy comes when the balloon is distracted by a blue balloon.
  • Establishing Character Moment: We're introduced to Pascal petting a stray cat.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The film is about a red balloon.
  • Forced to Watch: The bullies pop the red balloon with a slingshot right in front of Pascal.
  • Foreshadowing: Pascal looks nervous when he arrives at school and sees the other kids, and when school gets out, he leaves after everyone else is gone. This indicates that he's been bullied before.
  • Gang of Bullies: The older street boys who chase after Pascal and eventually take the balloon.
  • Gay Paree: Set in Paris, and the romantic-looking Paris of old buildings with character, not the Paris of gas stations and car dealerships.
  • Hate Sink: Popping a sentient balloon out of spite certainly qualifies for the aforementioned Gang of Bullies.
  • Karma Houdini: The bullies get away with destroying the balloon.
  • Magical Realism: It's a film set in the real world, with a sentient balloon.
  • Motive Decay: The bullies go from wanting Pascal's balloon for themselves to outright destroying it.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The film ends with Pascal borne aloft by all the balloons, disappearing into the sky.
  • Rule of Symbolism: A number of stray animals are shown, with Pascal petting a stray cat in the opening shot. This may be a reference to Pascal himself feeling out of place in the world.
  • Short Film: The film is only 34 minutes long.
  • Silence Is Golden: There are about four lines of dialogue in a 34-minute movie. It easily could have been made as a silent film.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Definitely idealistic. Brian Gibson, film critic, writes that the film can be seen in an escapist stance towards Pascal.
  • Sliding Scale of Living Toys: The balloon is at Level 4.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Lamorisse's own White Mane. Both feature young boys who feel isolated from the world around them, and form a deep friendship with a non-human character. Both protagonists are persecuted by those around them as a result, and both end up being borne away to a place where they can't be followed (the sky or the sea.)
  • Walking Spoilers: Floating technically, but they still fit. The various multi-colored balloons that show up at the end will give away the fact that the red balloon "dies".
  • You Are Not Alone: In the final scenes, as all the balloons of Paris come to the boy.

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