Balloons in *POP* culture.
Those of us in the balloon industry sometimes forget how wondrous our medium is. We know how we can transform events with our balloons. We know we can create smiles. But to many of us, they're just the tools we use to create atmosphere. Even without our help, that one simple balloon is still incredibly powerful and stimulates imagination. Pixar's Up just opened in theaters a few days ago, giving us an opportunity to see how a group of animators and story-tellers could create a tale around latex rubber balloons and how they play into the emotions of a handful of fictional characters. They aren't just objects used through the movie, but the subject of key memories these character's hold. Watching the movie reminded me of the first time I was given a balloon animal (a giraffe made from one balloon), and even earlier, the first helium balloons I received. These weren't just toys, but important objects to me that I held carefully for the short time I knew I'd have them. I can remember every few hours cutting small pieces of string from helium balloons to remove weight and ensure they could float longer. I wanted the string long enough that I could reach it while it sat on the ceiling, but short enough that the weight didn't pull it down.
BalloonHQ.com has been buzzing with talk about Up. Rather than write more about the movie, I'll direct people to the great write-up by Steve Jones. I started thinking about other major appearances of balloons in pop culture and their purpose and impact on the audience that viewed them, and, ultimately, the audience that views my work. Quite a few references to balloons in pop culture appear in the BHQ Guide to Balloons and Ballooning. I'll highlight a few of my favorites here.
The first is one I saw when I was fairly small. It was the short film, The Red Balloon (1956), about a sentient red balloon that befriends a small boy. I must have seen it 30 years ago, and I still have clear memories of the balloon following the boy between home and school, and the cluster of helium balloons that eventually carry the boy into the air. I was amused to learn that John Ninomiya, a cluster balloonist that I had the privelege of working with a few years ago, credits this movie with his interest in piloting latex balloons.
Next is Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm, a children's book that came out in 1998 and was turned into a TV movie by Disney a year later. A farmer, Harvey Potter, grows balloons. He doesn't grow rubber trees, but plants that actually produce balloons, already inflated and formed into animal shapes.
Patch Adams, released the same year as Harvey Potter, was a movie based on the life of Hunter "Patch" Adams. Patch is a doctor that believes that humor therapy is an important part of medical treatment. While this movie isn't about balloons, they are featured prominently in a couple of scenes. We see the balloons being used, not just as a backdrop, but as something used to cheer up sick patients.
I'm sure many people have their own favorites. It may be a movie with incredible wedding decor, or a movie containg a birthday party clown that makes everyone smile with balloons. What's important is that balloons have universal appeal. I know I'll keep working on more creative uses for them in my art.