“The Red Balloon” is a whimsical story about a young boy who befriends a precocious balloon. “The Red Balloon” stars the director’s young son Pascal as a boy who discovers a bright red balloon tethered to a light post one morning. The boy shimmies up the post and takes the balloon home with him. The balloon is not allowed in the house so it is let loose on the landing where it waits for the boy. It will later follow him to school, hound a tyrannical school master, and evade capture from a gang of bullying boys. “Red” is a traditional boy and his dog tale with the part of the dog being played by a balloon with a will of its own.
The story is simple and delightfully odd. The whimsical tone is easier to sustain in a short film where we are not given much time to dwell on the premise. The film is almost entirely free of dialogue, as well, so we are not tethered by magic killing exposition. Pascal accepts his balloon’s free will without difficulty allowing the audience to do the same. The balloon and Pascal, however, are not welcomed by the traditional institutions including the school and church. Pascal is removed from both when his balloon attempts to follow him into these magic-free zones. Order must be maintained. The balloon also incites the warrior-like boys who come into contact with it. They must conquer and destroy this playful incongruity. But despite their attempts to restore order, the magic rebounds tenfold in the film’s wondrous climax.
“The Red Balloon” utilizes what appear to be simple special effects in the creation of the life-filled balloon. It darts, taunts, loops, pushes into tight spaces, rises, and falls seemingly on its own. While obviously tethered by some puppeteer off-screen, the balloon also appears to be weightless. It’s a great effect and the kind that blends into a film without necessarily calling attention to its creators. Its the best kind of special effect that serves the story and is not an end unto itself. Though the film is presented in Technicolor, it opens in a cold, gray world. The stony streets, drab storefronts, and gray skies provide a stark contrast to the titular balloon. In its redness it pops off the screen and constantly reminds us of its otherness.