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 (13)
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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.

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