Fun in Balloon Land is a strange and perplexing object. (Notice I didn’t say “movie?” There’s a reason for that.) It’s full-on surreal to think that, as near as I can tell, this was apparently shown to some kind of audience at some point, let alone that I’m here watching it over fifty years later. For that, you can once again thank the good people at Rifftrax, by way of Something Weird, who unearthed it from…whatever festering crypt they found it in.
We’ve previously covered another Rifftrax discovery, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, and I spent some time speculating on just why it exists. When it comes to Fun in Balloon Land, there’s nothing to do but speculate. Even less information is available about it online than about Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. The closest I can come to an explanation is the credit in the opening titles to Giant Balloon Parades, Inc. If I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat, I guess I could interpret this to mean it was supposed to be an advertisement for Giant Balloon Parades, Inc.’s giant balloons (for parades). If so, it’s a miserable failure. The balloons on display here are abjectly hideous, not at all realistic but still much, much too detailed. It’d be a better advertisement for the uncanny as a concept.
And the condescending narration seems aimed squarely at the tiniest children, who are not known for having the liquid assets to buy giant balloons (for parades). I have no idea why this was ever shown, or where — in classrooms, or heaven forbid, an actual theater full of paying customers?
I have never seen The Exorcist. But I have seen Fun in Balloon Land.
It’s also like Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny in that it was (I guess?) intended to delight children but only succeeds in baffling and horrifying adults. It doesn’t give you any time to ease yourself into this weird nightmare world, either. It starts apparently mid-scene, without the buffer of titles or studio vanity plates, with the kind of creepy, worn-out electric organ you’d expect to hear in a haunted circus and the horribly grinning face of some deformed balloon woman. (If you listen closely to the Rifftrax version, you can hear one of the crew muttering “Oh God.”)
I have never seen High and Low or Come and See. I’ve never seen The Wages of Fear or A League of Their Own. I’ve never seen Picnic at Hanging Rock or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But I have seen Fun in Balloon Land. Twice.
A little boy lies in the lap of a woman with a confusingly old-timey bonnet while she reads him a bedtime story. She falls asleep, but he gets up and goes into the corner and sticks his face in a giant plywood storybook. I guess it’s supposed to be some kind of Gumby-style walking-into-the-story kind of deal, but the filmmakers (who wisely took their names off of this mess) aren’t giving me a lot to work with here. Anyway, in the next scene, this kid is in some kind of giant warehouse where some other kids in some kind of medieval-y costumes are sleeping on the floor and a giant balloon prince is standing over by the wall.
Wait, since I started writing this, I watched Fun and Balloon Land again without the commentary. Anyway, it’s been five years, and I still haven’t seen Spotlight.
When a real, actual movie is cheap, people like to describe it as being made for about two dollars or whatever change was in the couch cushions or what have you, which doesn’t leave much hyperbole left for this movie-shaped object that apparently really was made for about two dollars. Should we say it was made for air and promises? Maybe Fun in Balloon Land was made for negative money. Money was in circulation but it was taken out by the black hole of this unearthly object.
I’m not kidding. Giant Parade Balloons Inc. seems only vaguely aware of the concept of sound design. Everybody’s shouting so loud I thought they were just screaming across the set until I realized how badly the different takes are spliced together.
Apparently this is some kind of Sleeping Beauty thing, but we have to watch a ballet recital for no apparent reason (maybe they’re the good fairies? fucked if I know) before any of the sleeping courtiers can wake up. It goes on so long that you can see them start to squirm before it’s over.
Oh, and I guess if you count the bits and pieces I’ve seen in YouTube compilations, I’ve really seen this more like three or four times. But not Catch Me If You Can.
Well, enough of that. I’ll say this for the movie, it really does capture dream logic, if only because it can’t be bothered to make sense. One cut later, the kid’s wearing nothing but golden underpants and yelling, “My goodness, where am I.” There’s some old man there with a paper crown and a fake beard that, when he turns around, turns out to be attached to a horrible, rubbery mask. That’s about the level of costuming we’re working with in general. The little boy meets a fish and a lobster who only have about half a costume each. The other half’s just plain old slacks. The costume half is apparently made of papier-mache, because Giant Balloons Inc. spares no expense.
Oh shit, did you know when you buy a Vizio TV, it comes with access to a 24-hour Rifftrax channel? I watch it a whole bunch, and it’s always playing Fun in Balloon Land. That’s got to add up to at least one more viewing. Still haven’t seen the Before trilogy.
Now the kid’s on a farm, and by “a farm,” I mean another corner of the same warehouse. Some other kids show up, and they have an extremely unchoreographed square dance. It’s almost awe-inspiring how little Fun in Balloon Land delivers even the bare minimum of filmmaking competence. The kids aren’t even remotely in step with each other, and they’re framed so badly they keep disappearing as they step in and out of it. The main one keeps forgetting his lines, and at one point, he wanders off in the wrong direction and the creepy old man has to yank him back to his cue. Giant Parade Balloons Inc. doesn’t believe in retakes, apparently.
I haven’t seen Scream, The Sixth Sense, or Sixteen Candles. But I’ve seen this.
The next scene is a western tableau with some truly jaw-droppingly racist Indian costumes. They’d be hideous even if they weren’t mocking a historic genocide — some poor actors had to wear giant balloons (possibly for parades) on their heads, attached by some kind of beekeeper mask. Then the kid shoots a robber balloon right the fuck in the the face. It’s a shocking moment of violence for this little kiddie movie, and it’s that much more hilarious because the whole sequence drops dead right there. Here’s where things really get weird. Buckle up.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Clowns in black sunglasses. A balloon man making out with a balloon woman. But not Network, nor Nashville.
At this point, Fun in Balloon Land gives up on having…well, it’d be too generous to call what happened before a “plot,” but whatever it was, out the window it goes. Just extremely incompetent footage an also-pretty-incompetent Christmas parade in Philadelphia.
The giant balloons (for parades) aren’t actually on floats, but on flatbed dollies that hordes of clowns guide around. They do about as well as you’d expect clowns to. Sometimes, they stop dead in the middle of the road and have to scramble to catch up with the rest of the parade. At one point, they drop a snake’s tail. At another, a whole balloon almost topples over on top of them.
I say “clowns,” but a lot of them are just wearing clown makeup over their street clothes. One of them’s wearing all black, including a hat and sunglasses. That oughta scar some kiddies.
I haven’t seen The Deer Hunter, Dirty Dancing, or Dead Poets’ Society, but on the bright side, I at least managed to avoid Disaster Movie. Didn’t stop me from ripping off Babalugats’ review of it, though.
Speaking of scarring kiddies, let’s get on to the main event. That would be our narrator. Apparently, Giant Parade Balloons Inc., in their infinite wisdom, decided to get someone’s drunk, horny aunt (Rifftrax imagines her swigging from a “Big Gulp full a’ vodka”), and plonk her in a recording booth to ramble on about whatever entered her head as she saw the giant balloons (for parades) go by. And oh, how she does ramble…
What’s on top of them? Dogs! Poodles doing an act! Aren’t they darling? I wonder if your own poodle at home could stand on its hind legs. I think he could.
You may now go out…and rescue a-nee fair damsel in distress. You may now go out and slay a-nee dragon you wish to straaayyy. [not a typo]
Slithering snake! You slidy, slithery snake. Slide along past me! Yes, I don’t want to be a snake chaarrmer. You have lots of cloowwns to charm you. I’m glad I’m not waawwwking with you. [orgasmic moan] You are too laawwng. Too long. Yes. For me. Don’t wrap around meee. Or anyone else you seeee.
Mr. Roooollly Pooooollly Caaoown! I’d like a toy as big and as fat as you! I think if I roooollllled you dooowwn — you’d roll right up agaaiiin! Haaaaa! You make me laugh! You’re so roly poly!
[even more orgasmic moan] My stomach hurts! I’ve eaten a triple decker! I think it will take me a week to get over this one!
At one point, she seems to be openly describing her sexual fantasies for one of the balloons: “How straight! How strong! How tall! You may protect me any time.”
I haven’t seen Ocean’s Eleven or Oldboy. But I can quote you all that.
So that’s what we’re listening to, and what we’re looking at isn’t much better. It’s like an extremely long home movie someone conned his way into screening like it was an actual film. It was apparently edited by turning each scene into confetti and stapling it back together again. There’s some random shots of a yawning kid in there for whatever reason. The zoom’s cranked up as far as it can go, the better to show off how filthy and horribly detailed the balloons are, and to turn everything we see into a big mess of random part-images.
And when the narrator’s not off on her bullshit, there’s all kinds of random crowd noise. Someone keeps calling for Nelson. I hope they found him.
Oh shit, I haven’t even mentioned TV. I decided around when I finished high school I was gonna try and watch a different movie every night, so that doesn’t leave much time to watch much else. Go ahead and throw whatever you want on there. Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men…
This goes on for a hilariously but excruciatingly long time. Somehow, it’s still under an hour, so Giant Balloon Parades Inc. tries (and fails) to pad the movie out past that milestone. That means we get a “guessing game,” where the narrator encourages whatever children are still lucid after all that to yell at the screen, which I’m sure their parents loved.
Oh fuck, I’ve never tried drugs, I’ve never fallen in love. I’ve never had my heart broken..and I’ve never been to Boston in the fall.
So, the movie recycles footage we’ve already seen, and the kids are supposed to yell out the balloon’s names, or, if they don’t recognize them, yell “Yay-yay!” for whatever reason. The narrator forgets her own rules almost immediately and goes back to rambling, which means we get gems like, “Yell crackers! Yell crunchy crackers! Crunch your teeth!” Then she very unconvincingly tells us, “We love you” (“Then why did you do this to us?” Rifftrax’s Kevin Murphy screams). And then we’re back where we started. Same horrible haunted organ. Same horrible haunted balloons.
I’ve never brought a child into this world. I’ve never made the world a better place. I’ve never known inner peace.
But I have seen Fun in Balloon Land.
Heaven help me, I’ve seen Fun in Balloon Land.
Anyway, y’all seen Portrait of a Lady on Fire? I keep hearing it’s really good. Really need to get to that sometime.