As soon as I saw that this film was available on DVD, I knew it would be a touchstone for my young son, who had just turned 2 when I received it in the mail. We spend some father son time each week watching the latest Pixar and Disney movies, but it's hard to escape the reality that they've been engineered through test audiences to ensure that children absolutely must enjoy them. I've been yearning to introduce him to some visual narratives that don't rely on the smoke and mirrors that the digital age has used to drive up the take at the box office at the expense of the stripped down simplicity of a good story.
Enter The Red Balloon.
The opening shot is of a boy (played by the director's son, Pascal Lamorisse), walking on his way to school along a Parisian cobblestone street. He comes to the top of a stairwell, begins walking down the stairs, and up in a tree he spies an oversized, spherical red balloon. He scales the wall with the help of a handrail, and unfastens the string from the branches. Thus begins the journey of a little boy and his balloon. As the boy soon finds out, the balloon has a personality of its own, and an agenda to boot. The tale is timeless - and the construct is dialogue free, reducing the barriers for children of all ages to enjoy. At 2, my son kept saying "boy", "horse", "train", "balloon", and "bus"... along with the many other visual cues that a street scene in 1956 Paris may bring about.
There is plenty of scenery to soak in, but the triumph is in the ending, and is the epitome of many a child's dream. If you like this, I also highly recommend The White Mane, also directed by Albert Lamorisse.