This short film for children is a masterpiece of form that can be as light or as deep as a viewer wants to make it—a little boy’s adventure story or an allegory of the soul.
Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse) a small, lonely boy in 1950s Paris, finds and befriends a large bright red helium balloon and has adventures with it in the streets and narrow passages of Ménilmontant, an old Paris neighborhood in the east of the city, northwest of Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Pascal claims the balloon that he finds moored to the top of a light post; but the balloon also claims Pascal, playfully but faithfully following the boy and keeping him company.
The opening shot sets the mood: Pascal, heading to school slapping his small satchel against his side, pauses at an impasse in Ménilmontant which overlooks the city to pet a cat at the head of a flight of steps leading to a passage below.
As the story unfolds, the boy and balloon navigate the wonderland that the urban adult world can be to a child, its familiar and also its threatening aspects. Adult strangers tend to be friendly to Pascal, or easy to get around if not; a loose pack of slightly older and bigger street kids who would take Pascal’s balloon pose a bigger problem.
Director Albert Lamorisse won the 1956 Oscar for best original screenplay, but there is a minimum of dialog. Lamorisse, a documentary filmmaker, tells a satisfying story in pictures; he lets Maurice Le Roux’s score, which has the light, sure touch of a classical pop concert for children, provide a commentary.