Official Competition - Cannes Film Festival 1999

Billy's Balloon

available on
bitter films: volume 1

Based partially on a dream, animation for Don's final student film began shortly after Valentine's Day 1998. He was eager to animate something fun again after the long nine months of drawing Lily and Jim's endless talking heads, dialogue lip-synchs, and gesticulations. Also he was depressed about a girl. A dangerous combination.

billy's balloon by don hertzfeldt

Like Lily and Jim, the movie was approached like a documentary. All the camera setups are motionless, distant, and strictly observational, with the total lack of any music also helping raise the tension.

The cartoon's lack of dialogue unexpectedly makes it play like a traditional silent comedy, and it wasn't until after completion that it was realized just how much Billy is doing Buster Keaton. Appropriately, without access to the university's editing room for the last night of editing, final picture was locked using the only functioning equipment available: a rusted, barely operational silent movie era projector and a wall for a screen.

Don foleyed most of the soundtrack in the studio with real balloons - the sound of Billy's rattle was created by shaking a combination of cat toys together.

As Don began animating the last half of the film he had alternate endings in mind, but decided to stick with ambiguity, avoiding any sort of obvious punch line. Audiences' theories about what the film "really means" have ranged everywhere from socio-political messages, "childhood's innocence versus the agenda of society," to a "running commentary on the struggles of alcoholism."

"Billy's Balloon" (1998) took home its first award at the 1999 Slamdance Film Festival, the Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film.

Still a film student, Don was the youngest director in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999, where the film was nominated for the Short Film Palm D'Or.

To date, the film has received thirty-three awards.

Learn more about the film in the


Production credits

  • Writing, Animation, Production, Sound,
    and Direction by Don Hertzfeldt
  • Editing and Camera by Rebecca Moline
  • Sound Mixing by Tim Kehl
  • Copyright 1998 Bitter Films

"Billy's Balloon" reviews

  • "One great short in the program is Billy's Balloon, a hilarious animated short by Don Hertzfeldt, which follows the exploits of a boy and his abusive balloon's attempts to kill him. The most fun you'll have in five minutes in the dark."
    Chris Gore, IndieWire

  • "Bests of the show [include] Billy's Balloon, a wonderfully funny, superbly timed, and minimalist cartoon about a sadistic balloon."
    Houston Chronicle

  • "The festival's most twisted piece is Billy's Balloon, Don Hertzfeldt's dark take on a boy and his balloon that's going to be a classic."
    Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "It makes no sense and has no redeeming value. A stick-figure cartoon of a walleyed tot is attacked by his toy balloon. Was it the animator's lizardlike timing or the Keaton-like deadpan of the victim or the strong taboo against enjoying the spectacle of a child being hurt - or the combination of all three - that made me laugh so hard? I think that people in the theater next to me were convinced that a psychopath was among them."
    Richard von Busack, Silicon Valley Metro

  • "Clever animator Don Hertzfeldt... has another startling jewel on his hands with his deceptively calm and quiet Billy's Balloon which moves ever so slyly from innocence to menace."
    Josef Woodward, Santa Barbara Independent

  • "...hilarious..."
    Charles Lyons, The New York Times

  • "...strange and funny..."
    George Powell, San Francisco Examiner Magazine

  • "...the show belongs to Don Hertzfeldt's beautifully malevolent Billy's Balloon...
    Wesley Morris, San Francisco Examiner

  • "Provoking bursts of dark laughter, the surrealism of Billy's Balloon could be seen as an outward manifestation of the playfully cruel and nonsensical world that is so often a part of childhood's dark side."
    Ethan Kendricks, La Jolla Light

  • "This hilariously sadistic story takes the viewer from hunched-over giggles to gape-mouthed horror all in the course of six brief minutes. Directed, animated, written and produced by Don Hertzfeldt, whose hilarious short piece, Lily and Jim, brought down the house in '97 during the Athens Film Festival."
    Athens Flagpole, Athens GA

  • "Billy's Balloon is perhaps the most violent, with sicker humor than a baby-in-a-blender joke... (Tip: Don't bring any new parents to see this.) The Slamdance award-winning cartoon is as perversely enjoyable as watching Wile E. Coyote being pushed off a cliff, his foot attached to an anvil."
    Seattle Weekly

  • "...if you missed Don Hertzfeldt’s Billy’s Balloon, which turns The Red Balloon into something more like The Shining, at May’s Festival of World Cinema, you’d be well advised to catch it this time around."
    Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper Interactive

  • "Don Hertzfeldt's Billy's Balloon and Alexander Petrov's The Old Man and the Sea were undoubtedly the greatest sensations of the [Annecy] festival... uproarious..."
    Robin Gatto,

  • "The brightest star of them all was Billy's Balloon, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for best short film at this year's Slamdance film festival, which involves small children, pain and balloons...extremely funny..."
    Alexis James, Daily Pennsylvanian

  • "...just plain nasty... really unfunny, downright spooky stuff. If Hertzfeldt ever stands accused of horrible crimes, this film is not going to look good in court."
    Greg Stacy, O.C. Weekly, AZ

  • "...contemptible... some things are not funny, and child abuse is one of them."
    Joe Baltake, Sacramento Bee

  • "[Spike and Mike review] - Billy's Balloon is one of the funniest things I've seen in years... and may well have been worth the eight bucks."

  • "Billy’s Balloon, by American Don Hertzfeldt, is just plain laugh-out-loud sick, showing balloons that turn on children. Once again, the drawings are beyond elementary, but that just lets the concept take center stage."
    Tom Long, The Detroit News

  • "...demented animated short Billy's Balloon has been rather kindly described elsewhere as 'quirky'. As it is the story of balloons taking their revenge on stick figure children, a better adjective might be 'bent' or even 'downright disturbed'. However you describe it, Hertzfeldt's little minimalist film is funny, sick and absolutely irresistible."
    Atlantic Film Festival

  • "...grimly funny...unabashedly inverts the savagery which children inflict on their toys - in this case balloons."
    Images Festival

  • "...notable is Don Hertzfeldt's Billy's Balloon, which pits cute and crude stick-figure kids against squiggly little balloons to demonstrate some sort of Darwinian theory perhaps best left unstudied. It's a winning short not only for its almost gleefully vaudevillian sense of comic timing, but also because it's one of the few shorts here that shies away from the pure gross-out, something Spike and Mike have never been able to resist."
    Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle

  • "...crazy genius...a twisted riff..."
    Shawn Conner, The Vancouver Courier

  • "...amusing nightmarishness... sadistic as hell..."
    Wesley Morris, San Francisco Examiner

  • "This thing will win awards until the end of time. It's bold, evil, simple and hilarious. Although it is nothing like that film, it is sort of the Bambi Meets Godzilla of the new millennium. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. Its dark and horrific landscape juxtaposing the characters of youngsters in the park with their balloons against an surprisingly deadly force is quite unique and interesting... And the sound, though simple as well, is perfection. And just when you think it can't get any more crazy and hilarious, Hertzfeldt takes it to another level that is twice as funny and twice as wild. It's a great short film. One that's guaranteed to make Hertzfeldt a name for himself."

  • "...genuinely off the wall stuff...hilarious... like a helium-filled take on Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds [that] would leave those little round-headed cynics on South Park agape with admiration."
    John Lekich, The Georgia Straight

  • "...hilarious... the audience is confused by its own amusement over a child being hurt... What is utterly mesmerizing about the piece is the emotion that Hertzfeldt puts onto the face of his simple stick figure, Billy, while keeping everything else simple, minimal, and detached... The lethargic pace in Billy's Balloon is reminiscent of the stillness used by Kubrick in his celebrated films, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon.
    Hans Feuersinger, Good Times, Santa Cruz

  • "However you see it, director Don Hertzfeldt (Lily and Jim) is a true, if twisted, talent that we will likely see more of."
    Wendy Jackson, Animation World Magazine

Awards for "Billy's Balloon"

1999 Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film - Slamdance Film Festival
The Skidmore Award, Best Short Animation - New York Animation Festival
Grand Prize - Matita Animation Film Festival, Italy
Best Animated Film - Sanitago Int'l Short Film Festival, Chile
Best Animated Film - Kudzu Film Festival, Athens GA
Best Animated Film - Freaky Film Festival, Urbana IL
Special Jury Prize - Sydney Comedy Short Film Festival, Australia
Silver Spike - Valladolid International Film Festival, Spain
Silver Award, Animation - Atlantic City Film Festival
Silver Plaque, Animation - Worldfest Flagstaff
Award of Merit - San Francisco International Film Festival
Trophy Winner - Rochester International Film Festival
Best Animated Film Runner Up - Santa Barbara Int'l Film Festival
Best Animated Film Runner Up - Humboldt State Int'l Film Festival
Second Place, Best Animated Film - San Luis Obispo Film Festival
Judges Special Recognition Award, "Way Cool Animation" - Microcinefest, MD
Special Recognition Award - Arizona Int'l Film Festival
Jury Award for Animation - New York Expo of Short Film
Animation Honorable Mention - Pacific Coast Film Festival
Animation Honorable Mention - Atlanta Film Festival
Finalist Award - Worldfest Houston
2000 Director's Choice Award - Black Maria Film Festival, NJ
The Audience Award - Mediawave Film Festival, Hungary
Second Place, Best Animated Work under Five Minutes - World Animation Celebration
Best Comedy Short - Hi Mom Film Festival, NC
Best Animated Film - Long Island International Film Expo
Best Animated Film - Tube Film Festival, CA
Audience Choice Award, Best Animated Short - Bare Bones Film Festival, OK
Teen Pick Award, Favorite Animation - Bare Bones Film Festival, OK
Best Animated Short - Saguaro Int'l Film Festival
Audience Favorite Award - Saguaro Int'l Film Festival
Second Place, Animation - Flo Film Festival, FL
Second Place, Comedy - Flo Film Festival, FL
Youth Jury Award, Honorable Mention - Dresden Film Festival
"Off Hollywood" Oscar Nomination - Best Short Film - Ohio Independent Film Festival

Flying Gherkin International Award for Creativity - Melbourne International Animation Festival

"Billy's Balloon" public exhibition history

1998 New Orleans Film Festival

Cannes International Festival du Film (Palm d'Or Official Competition)

Slamdance Film Festival (Grand Jury Award - Best Short Film)

Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation tour

Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation tour

Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, Volume VI (video)

New York Animation Festival (The Skidmore Award - Best Short Animation)

Matita Animation Festival, Italy (tied for Grand Prize)

Santiago International Short Film Festival, Chile (Best Animated Film)

Kudzu Film Festival, Athens GA (Best Animated Film)

Freaky Film Festival, IL (Best Animated Film)

Sydney Comedy Short Film Festival, Australia (Special Jury Prize)

Microcinefest, MD (Judges Special Recognition Award, "Way Cool" Animation)

Valladolid International Film Festival, Spain (Silver Spike)

Atlantic City Film Festival, NJ (Silver Award, Animation)

Worldfest Flagstaff (Silver Plaque, Animation)

Rochester International Film Festival, NY (Trophy Winner)

San Francisco International Film Festival (Award of Merit)

Santa Barbara International Film Festival (Best Animated Film, Runner Up)

Pacific Coast Film Festival (Animation Honorable Mention)

Atlanta Film Festival (Animation Honorable Mention)

Humboldt State Int'l Film Festival, CA (Best Animated Film, Runner Up)

San Luis Obispo Film Festival, CA (Second Place, Best Animated Film)

Arizona International Film Festival (Special Recognition Award)

Worldfest Houston (Finalist Award)

New York Expo of Short Film (Jury Award)

DVD:MAGS - Short Cinema Journal Issue #6 (DVD)

Best of Slamdance 99:

Director's Guild of America,
Smithsonian Institution,
American Cinematheque,
Park City (encore) screenings

Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema

Images Festival, Toronto

Film Fest New Haven, CT

East Lansing Film Festival, MI

Sydney Film Festival, Australia

Tahoe International Film Festival

Nashville Independent Film Festival

Film Nite, NC

Anima Mundi 99, Brazil Animation Festival

Sidewalk Moving Pictures Festival, Birmingham AL

Seattle Film Festival

USA Film Festival, TX (out of competition)

Waterfront Film Festival, MI

New Zealand Film Festival(s) - Auckland and Wellington

Florida Film Festival

Melbourne Film Festival, Australia

Bumbershoot - One Reel Film Festival, Seattle

Newport Film Festival, Rhode Island

Solstice Film Festival, CA

Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, Montreal

Gen Art Summer Arts Festival, Manhattan NY

Ocularis Film Series, Brooklyn NY

Helsinki Film Festival

Maui Film Festival (Spike and Mike program)

Palm Springs International Short Film Festival

Best of the Palm Springs Int'l Short Film Festival

Chicago Underground Film Festival

Athens International Film Festival, Greece

Woods Hole Film Festival, Cape Cod MA

Atlantic Film Festival, Nova Scotia

Marco Island Film Festival, Florida

Split Film Festival, Croatia

Cinematexas Film Festival

Fantastisk Film Festival, Sweden

Ottawa International Animation Festival

Empire State Film Festival, New York

Northampton Film Festival, MA

Ovar National Video Festival, Portugal

Hawaii International Film Festival

Gold Camp Film Festival, CO

Central Florida Film Festival

The Best of the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, AL

St.Louis International Film Festival

Bristol Short Film Festival, UK

The Lost Film and Music Festival, Philadelphia

Curta Cinema International Short Film Festival, Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Utah Short Film Festival

Ohio Independent Film Festival

Ajijic Festival Internacional de Cine, Mexico

Montclair Short Film Festival, NJ

CineVegas International Film Festival, NV

2000 Sundance Film Festival, with Spike and Mike

Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation tour

Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation, Volume VI (video)

Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation tour

Annecy Animation Festival, France

Black Maria Film Festival tour, (Director's Choice Award)

Mediawave Film Festival, Hungary (The Audience Award)

World Animation Celebration, Los Angeles
(Second Place, Best Animated Work under Five Minutes)

Hi Mom Film Festival, NC (Best Comedy Short)

Long Island Int'l Film Expo, NY (Best Animated Film)

Bare Bones Film Festival, OK

(Audience Choice Award, Best Animated Short and
Teen Pick Award, Favorite Animation)

Saguaro International Film Festival, AZ

(Best Animated Short and
Audience Favorite Award)

Tube Film Festival, CA (Best Animated Film)

Flo Film Festival (Second Place, Animation, Second Place, Comedy)

Slamdance Film Festival Best of Screenings:

Salt Lake City and Los Angeles - Skirball/Un-Cabaret Comedy Project

Filmfest Dresden, Germany (Youth Jury Award, Honorable Mention

San Francisco Indiefest

Best of the Kudzu Film Festival, Athens Mental Health Benefit, Athens GA

Brussels International Film Festival

Myhelan Film Festival, NJ

Film Fest D.C.

Magnolia Film Festival, MS

Valleyfest, TN

Ragtag Film Festival, MO

PS 2000, NY

Canal+ Spain, cable broadcast

Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente

San Diego International Film Festival

Memphis International Film Festival

Kerala International Film Festival, India

Arizona State University Art Museum Short Film and Video Festival

Los Angeles Independent Film Festival

Crossroads Film Festival, Jackson MS

Kansas City Film Jubilee

California SUN International Animation Festival, Northridge

Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, Korea

Best of the Atlanta Film Festival

Best of Filmfest Dresden, Summer Open Air Screening, Germany

"I Castelli Animati", International Animated Film Festival, Italy

San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, Spain (out of competition)

Capalbio Cinema Int'l Short Film Festival, Italy (out of competition)

Giffoni Int'l Film Festival, Italy

Macau Outdoor Summer Film Screenings

Open Air Filmfest Weiterstadt, Germany

L'Etrange Int'l Film Festival, France

Int'l Weekend of Animation, Weisbaden, Germany

SonoArts Celebration, South Norwalk, CT

the Best of Annecy, Montreal, Canada

SITGES 2000, International Film Festival of Catalonia, Spain

Leeds International Film Festival (fringe), UK

Shortfilmfestival "Eisenstein", Wilhelmshaven, Germany

Festival du Cinema International en Abitibi-Temiscamingue, Quebec, Canada

International Young Filmmakers Festival of Granada, Spain

Festival du Film d'Animation Pour La Jeunesse, Bourg en Bresse, France

2001 the Don and Bill Show (touring program w/ Bill Plympton)

Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation tour

Annecy International Animation Festival, France

Deauville Film Festival, France

Brussels Cartoon and Animated Films Festival, Belgium

Bristol Short Film Festival, UK

Birmingham Film and TV Festival, UK

Melbourne International Animation Festival

(Flying Gherkin International Award for Creativity (tied with Rejected)

Texas Film Festival

Wisconsin Film Festival

Hardacre Film Festival, Iowa

Canal+ Spain, cable broadcast

Canal+ Poland and Benelux television broadcast

Canal+ France television broadcast

RAISAT Italy television broadcast

NRK TV Norway television broadcast

Brest European Short Film Festival, France

Festival de Cine de Alcala de Henares, Madrid

Thessaloniki Film Festival, Greece

2002 the Don and Bill Show (touring program w/ Bill Plympton)

Annecy Animation Festival, France

San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, Spain

Muskegon Film Festival, MI

Doc Films, IL

Antelope Valley Independent Film Festival, CA

National Museum Of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, UK

FAN International Animation Festival, Norwich England

2003 The Animation Show tour

FAN International Animation Festival, Norwich England (Bitter Films retrospective)

I Castelli Animati Animation Festival, Italy (Bitter Films retrospective)

the Don and Bill Show (touring program w/ Bill Plympton)

Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation tour

Silhouette Film Festival, Paris

Projector Film Festival, Scotland

2004 The Animation Show tour

The Animation Show Voume One DVD

La Casa Encendida Animation Festival, Madrid

2005 An Evening of Bitter Films: George Eastman House, Rochester NY

Adult Swim: the Cartoon Network, USA

"Cosmic Zoom" Animation Festival, Denmark (Bitter Films retrospective)

Big Muddy Film Fesitval, IL (Bitter Films retrospective)

COURTisane Festival, Belgium

Almeria En Corto Short Film Festival, Spain

Bar des Clandestins, Théâtre de Poche, Brussells

2006 Bitter Films Volume One: 1995-2005 DVD

Southside Film Festival, PA

Udigrudi World Animation Convention, Brazil (Bitter Films retrospective)

2007 MTV2 USA broadcast

SFTV Swiss TV broadcast

2008 An Evening with Don Hertzfeldt tour

Outdoor Film Festival, Amsterdam

2009 An Evening with Don Hertzfeldt tour

I.Sat, TBS Latin America (TV broadcast)

2010 Image Forum Festival tour, Japan

Taketoyo Animation Film Festival, Japan

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