The Classic 1956 Oscar-Winning Children’s Film, The Red Balloon

The best chil­dren’s sto­ries can be a delight for adults, too. That’s cer­tain­ly the case with Albert Lam­or­is­se’s 1956 short film, The Red Bal­loon. The sto­ry is set in the run-down Ménil­montant neigh­bor­hood of Paris. A lit­tle boy, played by the direc­tor’s son Pas­cal, is walk­ing to school one morn­ing when he dis­cov­ers a red bal­loon tan­gled around a lamp post. He “res­cues” it and takes it to school with him. Along the way, the boy dis­cov­ers that the bal­loon has a mind of its own. It fol­lows him like a stray dog, and togeth­er they face the ter­rors, and tedi­um, of child­hood.

The film, shown above in its entire­ty, earned Lam­or­isse an Acad­e­my Award for Best Orig­i­nal Screen­play and a Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, along with near-uni­ver­sal praise from crit­ics. “The Red Bal­loon is a won­der­ful movie for chil­dren,” says New York Times film crit­ic A.O. Scott in the “Crit­ics’ Picks” video below. “It’s also a unique­ly insight­ful movie about child­hood.” In a 2008 essay, “The Red Bal­loon: Writ­ten on the Wind,” the chil­dren’s author Bri­an Selznick writes of his life-long appre­ci­a­tion for the film:

As a child, I longed for two spe­cif­ic things that I now real­ize Lam­or­is­se’s movie embod­ies: the pres­ence of a lov­ing friend and the knowl­edge that real mag­ic exists in the world. Child­hood, in so many ways, is about learn­ing to nav­i­gate the world around us, to make sense of what seems over­whelm­ing and gigan­tic. Hav­ing a spe­cial com­pan­ion makes that expe­ri­ence more man­age­able and less ter­ri­fy­ing. To kids, the world of grown-ups is often alien and untrans­lat­able, and so mag­ic becomes a lens through which the incom­pre­hen­si­ble uni­verse (as Ein­stein once called it) becomes com­pre­hen­si­ble.

Many Amer­i­cans remem­ber see­ing The Red Bal­loon for the first time as a 16mm film pro­ject­ed in ele­men­tary school class­rooms and cafe­te­rias. With the 2008 release of the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion DVD, many are redis­cov­er­ing the movie–and per­haps over-ana­lyz­ing it–from the per­spec­tive of adult­hood. “An adult watch­ing The Red Bal­loon will not find it dif­fi­cult to see the title char­ac­ter as a sym­bol of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, friend­ship, love, tran­scen­dence, the tri­umph of good over evil, or any of the count­less oth­er things that a sim­ple, round red bal­loon can rep­re­sent,” writes Selznick. “But per­haps we’re bet­ter off enjoy­ing some things the way a child under­stands them: not as metaphors but as sto­ries. In the end, I think there’s some­thing nice about allow­ing the bal­loon to just be. I guess that’s what you do with good friends–you let them be them­selves.”

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Comments (14)
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  • John Vilalta says:

    I con­cur with the “As a child”. A spir­i­tu­al way of see­ing one self from with­in and the way we see the world. I remem­ber my sis­ter Eileen after she watch super­woman. Eileen put on red tow­el around her neck, got up on a 6 foot fence and tried to fly. You know the answer to that, Eileen wore a cast on her arm for three months.

  • Tod McLeod says:

    i remem­ber watch­ing this in ele­men­try school i am now 53 and recent­ly watched this as an adult it was mov­ing it had a mix­ture of humor and awful­ness (the gang of boys who even­tu­aly kill the baloon) but still a great short film

  • Petteri says:

    Could any­body explain this: At about 5:30 the boy leaves the bal­loon to a man for safe keep­ing while the boy is in school, but then he comes out of school WITH the bal­loon. Seemed like a scene was miss­ing…

  • anthony grant says:

    Noth­ing wrong with adults “over ana­lyz­ing” The Red Bal­loon. That is it’s mag­ic: it grows with you, like a true friend.

  • george and marcia grunwald says:

    the man is the school cus­to­di­an. the boy is already on the school grounds when he hands over the bal­loon. the cus­to­di­an is still on duty when the boy’s school day is over.

  • shirley says:

    the boy went through the same door he came out of with the bal­loon because the first door led to a court­yard where the jan­i­tor was sweep­ing up. from there he went into the school.

  • Joeha says:

    I remem­ber read­ing the book as a young child and it always haunt­ed me. Why? In the book, the boy had social prob­lems and in his mind the bal­loon friend­ed him, only to set him up into trust­ing oth­er bal­loons. The boy fell for it and faced cer­tain death from freez­ing in the sky or falling from the sky. As a young child I felt the red bal­loon was evil in dis­guise. This sto­ry has always had a great influ­ence on me about trust­ing peo­ple. All my life the book has been my night­mare.

  • Liz says:

    Let’s hope it does­n’t encour­age any more of those hor­ri­ble bal­loon releas­es.

  • Ralph says:

    I saw the Red Bal­loon in 1958 as a child of 7 on the ship tak­ing me to Amer­i­ca. Today I’m 66 and it remains one of my all time favorites.

    That’s the impres­sion it can make on child. I rec­om­mend all par­ents see it and con­side show­ing it to their chil­dren.

  • Noah Hopkins says:

    Some­times the film is avail­able, then it is removed. I’d like to use the film for an online class.

  • Barbie Bateman says:

    I saw it as a child. It left a last­ing impres­sion on me of the unfair­ness of life. Of human fail­ings of envy, jealosy and hatred to the point of destroy­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful. Its main mes­sage for me now see­ing it again, as a mature adult, is it is not nec­es­sary to under­stand every­thing that can­not be explained. Accept it for what it is and evjoy life its mys­ter­ies and become a free spir­it.

  • bazzle says:

    Thanks for your kind infor­ma­tion i love it.

  • David Philip Ireland says:

    I was the same age as Pas­cal when I first saw the movie. It has had a last­ing effect on me and my cre­ative life. Red Bal­loon and Fer­ris Beuller are my favourite films of all time. I have ded­i­cat­ed my new book of poet­ry to both actor and char­ac­ter.

  • June e. Dahl says:

    This is, to me, a fine, and a real­ly quite explic­it “alle­go­ry” ! The Red Bal­loon, sym­bol­is­es Jesus Christ, try­ing to receive the atten­tion of the peo­ple of Isre­al, dur­ing His pub­lic life on earth, to ful­fil the gospel teach­ing and then, His death by Cru­ci­fix­ion! The red bal­loon as: Jesus Christ, and the young boy, as: all of the fol­low­ers , apos­tles and dis­ci­ples, who love Jesus and try to pro­tect his estab­lished reli­gion on earth from destruc­tion ! but, then, comes the assaults and the attacks, and, final­ly, Jesus is Cru­ci­fied, and los­es His life! the Christ whom we mur­dered, and, yet, all the oth­er bal­loons are Christ ´s RESURRECTION ! They are awak­ened in loy­al­ty and love to mobilise and rush to assist the boy, rep­re­sent­ing: the apos­tles and dis­ci­ples , after the Cru­ci­fix­ion ; and, the Res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus Christ and lift­ing us up: the “boy” (us in the church , who are the.: “apos­tles”, dis­ci­ples and crowds of fol­low­ers and gath­er togeth­er and lift all of us, up, to the, now, re-opened: Gates of Heav­en ! …sav­ing us from HELL, through their ded­i­ca­tion and intense belief and devo­tion, which , dying or being “BURIED” , like a seed first buried, then , RESURRECTED in the warmth of the earth: the GLOW OF THE ALMIGHTY HEAVENLY GOD, the FATHER and nour­ish­ment, spring on earth , into vibrant life! In 1956, this could well be, an inter­pre­ta­tion. France had a very saint­ly, King Louis, as well as those, King Louis, who came before him , such as Louis the 14th, the Sun King; and, then, there have been great polit­i­cal heroes, and war­riors, such as: Napoleon Bona­parte, who , was not only want­i­ng to be “emper­or” of Europe„ but, also, who want­ed to be Pope , in the Vat­i­can, : con­trol­ling human souls under him! In the end, while dying in his impris­on­ment, he did repent of his life ´s evils, and received the sacra­ments of : Con­fes­sion , the Holy Mass and the Holy Eucharist, as well as Extreme Unc­tion before he died! He was a very brave, and genius states­man and war­rior, but, also, an inhu­man­ly destruc­tive per­son, yet, an extra­or­di­nary war­rior and strate­gist! He was always in the fore­front of the sol­diers in bat­tle, and he exer­cised amaz­ing mag­net­ism over all his men, under his com­mand ! “Le Bal­lon Rouge” is a fas­ci­nat­ing film!

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