Monday, November 30, 2015

The Great Balloon Adventure (1978)

          Originally titled Olly, Olly, Oxen Free, this attractively produced children’s film features a prominent supporting performance by Katharine Hepburn and a few passages of visual spectacle, but these elements are not sufficient to overcome the movie’s myriad shortcomings. Chief among the problems plaguing The Great Balloon Adventure is an anemic storyline, because the film’s three protagonists never confront anything resembling dramatic conflict, and they evade dangerous situations without much effort or risk. In lieu of genuinely exciting scenes, director/producer/co-writer Richard A. Colla fills the screen with vignettes that feel like placeholders. For instance, a lengthy scene of characters accidentally lighting fabric on fire is the closest equivalent the movie has to mortal danger, and the interminable soliloquy that Hepburn delivers late in the second act is the closest equivalent the movie has to something personally revelatory.
          In its broadest outlines, the premise of the movie seems like it should have generated colorful escapism bursting with themes of friendship and imagination. After all, the story concerns a young boy who decides to honor his late grandfather by rebuilding the hot-air balloon in which the grandfather once performed stunt shows. The Great Balloon Adventure opens in San Francisco, where preteen Alby (Kevin McKenzie) is obsessed by the memory of his grandfather, who performed under the name “The Great Sandusky.” Together with his pal, Chris (Dennis Dimster), Alby gathers money and tools for rebuilding his grandfather’s balloon. The boys trek to a nearby junk shop and encounter the shop’s eccentric proprietor, Miss Pudd (Hepburn). After briefly rebuffing the boys, she commits wholeheartedly to participating in their plan, providing free labor and material.
          The motivations of the characters are never explained in satisfactory ways, which contributes to the general air of artificiality and lifelessness pervading the project. (Bob Alcivar’s needlessly downbeat musical score doesn’t help.) While Colla’s actual filmmaking is quite slick, with passable special effects, vivid production design, and well-chosen camera angles, the storytelling is as enervated as the story itself. Nothing much happens, the movie unspools as a meditative pace, and the audience is left waiting in vain for the thrilling highlights that should appear but never do. The Great Balloon Adventure runs its course quickly, since the picture is only 92 minutes long, and the climax is visually interesting. Still, it’s hard to imagine young viewers sustaining attention during the talky bits, and it’s hard to imagine even the most devoted Hepburn fans enjoying the drably frivolous scenes involving the children.

The Great Balloon Adventure: FUNKY

1 comment:

Cindylover1969 said...

Manson International released this? A FAMILY flick?