Release List Reviews Price Search Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise
DVD Talk
Reviews & Columns
International DVDs
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Savant
HD Talk
Horror DVDs
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info



The Red Balloon
Le ballon rouge

The Red Balloon
1956 / Color / 1:33 flat full frame / 34 min. / Le ballon rouge / Street Date April 29, 2008 / 14.95
Starring Pascal Lamorisse
Cinematography Edmond Séchan
Film Editor Pierre Gillette
Original Music Maurice Le Roux
Written, Produced and Directed by Albert Lamorisse

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The most surprising thing about Albert Lamorisse's 1956 The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge) is that it hasn't been available on quality home video until now. Many who attended grade school in the 1960s will remember being shown this classic in scratchy 16mm prints; only now can it be appreciated in its original, beautiful colors. Kids love the nonverbal story and adults will be mesmerized by the beautiful views of Paris circa 1956. Janus Films' new DVD replicates the clarity of the original, in beautiful Technicolor hues.

The film often circulated in schools as an aid for creative writing, but ended up being shown primarily for entertainment. The simple, inspirational story encourages adults to look for symbols and metaphors. Many viewers that wouldn't blink twice at a foreign art film accepted The Red Balloon as a work of cinema genius.

The Red Balloon is the kind of soap bubble movie that doesn't sound like much when described, but grows in the imagination after a single viewing. A hillside neighborhood in Paris is established in beautiful views that avoid bright colors. Francophiles will marvel at time-machine images of wet cobble-stoned streets at dawn, painted in rich darkness. We see a boy on his way to school pause, and then climb a light post for an unknown purpose ... until the camera tilts to reveal a bright red balloon caught above. From this point forward, the film becomes a series of low-key adventures. Trolleys don't permit balloons, so the boy must run to school. A janitor holds the balloon for the boy while he's in class. When his mother throws the balloon out a window, the fantasy begins in earnest. Instead of drifting away, the balloon waits for the boy to open the window and let it back in. The balloon follows the boy to school, plays hide-and-seek with him, etc.

The film's surface is formalized just enough to suggest a color children's book of the kind that became popular in the 1950s. The camera maintains a medium distance most of the time, adding to the impression of a 2D concept come to life in a 3D Parisian environment. The balloon is simple in conception, just a red orb that instantly attracts the eye. It never behaves in an openly cartoonish manner, even though it tags along with the kid and tries to entertain him. The kid accepts his new companion at face value, and they're soon inseparable.

The Red Balloon shares a general dramatic structure with Lamorisse's earlier White Mane, a story of a boy and a horse. Both boys form unusual independent relationships that are threatened by unsympathetic outsiders. The balloon easily evades parents and schoolmasters but can't escape a pack of schoolboys armed with stones and slingshots. As with the cowboys in White Mane, the youngsters want to destroy the red balloon simply because it's different, or because it defies them. The somewhat alarming finale is a whimsical miracle that suggests that the only antidote for cruel reality is a fantasy escape.

The Red Balloon was a big hit in America, thanks to the many copies distributed to classrooms. It was for many American children their first exposure to a European Art film. Post- screening discussions would invariably begin with the teacher's assertion that the balloon is a symbol. Lamorisse's myth-in-miniature attracts interpretations like an inkblot, and more often than not a high schooler would bring up the idea that the movie's death-and-rebirth theme reminded them of the story of Christ. As with the boy-horse relationship in White Mane, the boy's relationship with the balloon puts him at odds with society at large. Others don't recognize the wonder of the magical balloon, and instinctively seek to possess or destroy it.

Most important to The Red Balloon's enduring appeal is the fact that it doesn't insist on a particular point of view. Jirí Trnka's animated short subject The Hand (Ruka) was also shown in many classrooms in the 1960s, but it was obviously chosen for its anti-Communist message. The Red Balloon remains as light and airy ... as a balloon. Its most amusing passage occurs at a sidewalk flea market. While the balloon admires itself in a mirror (!), the boy regards a painting of a small girl. He then encounters a living, breathing kindergarten-age beauty, also carrying a balloon, a blue one. The balloons show a definite affinity for each other, but the boy isn't yet ready to trifle with the opposite sex. Boy and girl go their own way. Is the girl's balloon also magic? We're not sure.

Janus Film's DVD of The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge) is a beautiful flat transfer of a film originally released in Technicolor. It looks much better than the spliced (and edited?) 16mm prints from long ago. Maurice Le Roux's gentle score sounds fine and the few words of French dialogue are translated in a removable set of English subtitles. Critic Michael Koresky provides liner notes, stressing the fact that the film won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1957 ... despite being an almost completely visual concept that barely needed a formal script. Its competition that year was The Bold and the Brave, Julie, The Ladykillers and La strada.

This was Albert Lamorisse's biggest success, He made a feature semi-sequel in 1960, called Le voyage en ballon. In it, a slightly older Pascal flies over France in his grandfather's full-sized balloon. A dubbed American version Stowaway in the Sky was reportedly marred by an intrusive narration read by actor Jack Lemmon. In 2007 director Hsiao - hsien Hou made an homage to the Lamorisse original, Le voyage du ballon rouge starring Juliette Binoche.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Red Balloon rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: New trailer for the 2007 release of The Red Balloon and White Mane.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 13, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

Go BACK to the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are more likely to be updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.

Return to Top of Page

Advertise With Us

Review Staff | About DVD Talk | Newsletter Subscribe | Join DVD Talk Forum
Copyright © MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

Subscribe to DVDTalk's Newsletters

Email Address

DVD Talk Newsletter (Sample)
DVD Savant Newsletter (Sample)

Release List Reviews Price Search Shop SUBSCRIBE Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise