O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge)

Some of you aren’t old enough to remember the days before VHS tapes. Back then, when we watched movies in school they were on film. With clunky projectors. And if you were watching a film with multiple reels, there was always that cool click…click…flapflapflapflapflap when the first reel ended but kept spinning while the film whipped against the projector.

I’m pretty sure I remember the operation of the projector more than I remember much of the films I used to watch in elementary school or at church or at the public library for storytime. The old Disney Swiss Family Robinson movie was always a favorite, along with The Shaggy Dog — which I enjoyed but distinctly remember creeping me out a little.


But scenes from two films — both of them pretty much dialogue-free, if I remember right — have stayed with me ever since those old days. The first is a French film from the 1950s called The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge). It’s the story of a little boy who plays with a balloon all day on the streets of Paris, until a bunch of neighborhood bullies “kill” the balloon in an excruciating death scene involving a slingshot and stomping. I’ve always held a mental image of that impossibly round, shiny, thick-skinned balloon with a thick string attached to it, so unlike today’s thin oval balloons…and the sound of the kid’s feet clomping down the cobblestone streets as he chased the balloon. Do any of you remember this film?


Fun fact: It won an Oscar in 1956 for Best Original Screenplay…the only dialogue-free film ever to win that honor.

The Red Balloon has recently been released on DVD, and a brand-new film by a Taiwanese filmmaker has just come out in homage to it. The new film is called The Flight of the Red Balloon. You can read more about both films here. Jog your memory with this clip:


The other childhood film still lodged in my brain — and I actually remember the first time I watched it as a 4-year-old, and in what room at my church — is called Paddle-to-the-Sea. It’s based on a 1944 children’s book of the same name, about a boy in Canada who carves a little wooden boat out of wood and puts it in a lake near his house. We follow the boat as it traverses the Great Lakes and eventually ends up on the St. Laurence River and into the Atlantic Ocean. “I am Paddle-to-the-Sea,” the kid carves on the bottom of the boat. “Please put me back in the water.”


It came out in 1966 and also was Oscar-nominated. Anybody see or remember this one?

I’ve got some serious nostalgia brewing as I think about and watch clips of these two films. What about you? What random films or movies from your childhood still give you the happies?

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posted May 7, 2008 at 12:58 pm

I don’t remember the title, but we watched a movie at St. Joseph’s elementary about baby turtles hatching in the sand. They made a dash for the ocean while seabirds feasted on them. The wholesale slaughter of these turtles has been with me my whole life; I think about it at least weekly.

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posted May 7, 2008 at 2:11 pm

I remember watching the “Jesus” film in Sunday school. Jesus had red hair and blue eyes. He looked at lot like Willie Nelson. I really did wonder why he seemed so unhappy. I never asked because being a PK, you get swats for that kind of stuff.

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posted May 7, 2008 at 6:43 pm

My wife and I recently went to an Art House theater and saw “The Red Balloon” as well as another film from the same director, “White Mane” – both films were really interesting – put together you could almost psycho-analyze the writer/director.Both had kind of an “outsider vs. the mean world” feel.Haven’t seen “Paddle to the sea” yet.

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posted May 7, 2008 at 7:22 pm

I remember “The Red Balloon” from school, but not “Paddle to the Sea”.My favorites from “back in the day”, however is “School House Rock” from Saturday morning cartoons, when there were only 3 channels.I am SO old!

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