As many critics have remarked, the first 45 minutes of WALL*E feel like a silent movie, using purely visual elements to construct its characters and story. Itâ€™s possible, though, that the Pixar folk didnâ€™t look all the way back to the silent era. Rather, they might just as easily have studied Albert Lamorisseâ€™s famous 1956 short film, The Red Balloon.
That 34-minute movie relates the tale of a little boy who discovers that an unusually large balloon is following him. â€˜Taleâ€™ might be too sophisticated a word, however, as the narrative is simple to the point of being iconic. Boy finds balloon, boy sometimes loses balloon, boy and balloon join together again, boy and balloon traipse through Paris. The delight in watching such a simple story comes from how Lamorisse endows the balloon with a strong, magical personality. It hovers outside the boyâ€™s room, waiting for him to come outside again. It refuses to let other boys play with it. In one hilarious sequence, it taunts an old man who, in frustration, has locked up the boy.
Still, the primary relationship comes from how the balloon teaches the boy. It is more than happy to play with him, but it refuses to be controlled by him. Early on, he scolds it, â€œYou must obey me and be good.â€ Not quite, we soon learn. Rather, the boy must learn to respect the balloon, and only then can the magic happen. And indeed it does happen, with finely tuned sight gags and beautiful, visceral tracking shots through Paris streets. This reaches its zenith when a rebellion of balloons fills the sky with brilliant color over the famous Parisian architecture. Then in a truly transcendent moment, boy and balloon become one and take flight. Donâ€™t let its short length fool you; there is more joy here than in most films four times longer.