Going ‘UP’ With Hollywood’s Greatest Balloons

Forgive me for being rather corny, but is there anything as sweet and simple as a balloon? No matter how old you are, if someone hands you a balloon your day gets just a little bit brighter. Who out there hasn’t taken hold of one and hoped, just this once, that it would take off with you attached? Who hasn’t wondered how many it would take to send you flying into the air? Few of us have ever dreamed as ambitiously as Carl (Ed Asner), the elderly hero of Disney/Pixar’s “Up,” which floats into theaters this Friday. Carl painstakingly figures out just how many balloons it would take to carry his whole house into the sky, and he flies away on the adventure of a lifetime.

In the spirit of Carl, I’ve decided to list five of Hollywood’s greatest balloons. It was tough work, debating whether “James and the Giant Peach’s” floating peach counted and how high Lex Luthor’s (Gene Hackman) jailbreak in “Superman II” should rank against the rest. In the end, these are the five I decided on. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments below.

“The Red Balloon” (1956)

It’s a simple, wordless love story between a boy and his red balloon, which seems to have a mind of its own. Together, the duo spend a lovely day gallivanting through the streets of Paris. Until a gang of bullies gets it in their heads to destroy the balloon, that is. Their triumphant slaying of the helium-filled orb has traumatized every elementary school classroom that “The Red Balloon” has been screened for since its 1956 debut.

“Around the World in Eighty Days” (1956/2004)

There are two versions of this story to choose from: the Oscar-winning 1956 version starring David Niven and directed by Michael Anderson or the 2004 version that starred Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan. Both are based on the Jules Verne story in which a wealthy man and his butler embark on a journey to circle the globe in 1,920 hours. Interestingly, the iconic hot air balloon featured in both movies never gets more than a passing mention in Verne’s book. That aside, you can’t really make a list of balloon movies and not include one of the most famous hot air journeys of all.

“The Muppet Movie” (1979)

While it may not be particularly exciting for a comedic sidekick to be carried away by balloons, Gonzo’s misadventure landed on the list purely because of the conversation that leads to it:

Gonzo: All right, Camilla, I’ll get you a balloon, but you have to pick the color: red or green?
Balloon Vendor: Can I give you a word of advice?
Gonzo: What?
Balloon Vendor: Why not take both?
Gonzo: What a wild idea!
Balloon Vendor: Yeah, a beautiful chicken like that deserves two balloons.
Gonzo: You’re right.
Balloon Vendor: I have guys come in all the time. Sometimes, they’ll get a buncha balloons for their girls, and they go gaga for it.
Gonzo: Gaga? I’ll take the whole bunch!
Camilla: Gaga! Gaga!

Away floats Gonzo at an estimated seven knots. Watch the movie to find out how he gets back to solid ground.

“The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1988)

It was a close call between the hot air balloon in “The Wizard of Oz” and “Baron Munchausen,” but Terry Gilliam’s won out by the virtue of its construction. The Baron escapes his unnamed city with some help from a balloon made of women’s underwear. All of those petticoats, corsets and pantaloons prove sturdy enough to fly him all the way to the moon. The Wizard’s balloon has nothing on that!

“Batman” (1989)

DC Comics villains have a thing for helium. In “Superman II,” Lex Luthor escapes from prison via hot air balloon. He was topped nine years later by Batman’s (Michael Keaton) nemesis, the Joker (Jack Nicholson), whose evil scheme to poison Gotham City involves a circus parade, bags of money and giant parade balloons. Thanks to Batman’s deft handling of the Batwing, the toxin-filled balloons are released harmlessly into the Gotham City sky, presumably to explode over another city that Batman doesn’t watch over. Metropolis perhaps? The Joker is so enraged at the loss of his balloons that he shoots his top lackey (Tracey Walter) and requests time alone. See? Balloons are powerful things!