Here in Canada, we’ve already celebrated Thanksgiving. But for all of our American friends, we wish you the Happiest Thanksgiving. There are a few traditions of American Thanksgiving I do like to take part in. One is of course, the day after bonanza that is Black Friday. The second is watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. One thing that makes this parade so famous are the gigantic balloon figures that trudge along the streets of New York and make kids and adults ooh and ah alike. Thanks to The Daily Beast who have compiled a collection of some of the balloons that have impressed us and ultimately, changed history by breaking racial barriers and more. Check out the list below.
This year, Tim Burton was commissioned to create a new balloon character for the Thanksgiving day parade and this morning, he debuted the character of B. Boy (seen above). Here is his character’s profile:
“Forbidden from playing with other children because of his jagged teeth and crazy-quilt stitching, B. retreated to a basement lair where he obsesses over Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloon and dreams that he too, will be able to fly someday.”
Many parents were concerned that this new balloon character would scare children during the parade. However, the parade’s executive producer, Amy Kule, assured worried parents that the balloon, “although gothic, is really fun in spirit and nobody should be worried that it’s going to be scary or should be part of a nighttime parade rather than a daytime parade.”
Last year, Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami brought a bit of what then-executive producer Robin Hall called “high art” to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The artist’s two bunny-suited, childlike characters named Kiki and Kaikai didn’t come without some bite. Kiki sported pointy fangs and a third eye in the middle of her forehead. But, as Murakami explained to The New York Times, there was no reason to fear the impish characters. “They are cute, yet fearsome, modern and yet connected to the past. They embody eccentric beauty,” he said.
In 2007, amid a stream of gigantic, colorful balloons designed to promote cartoons, toys and movies, came Jeff Koons’ featureless, silver, oversized replica of his 1986 work, Rabbit. Though the original only looked like a balloon and was actually cast in stainless steel, Koons’ 2007 incarnation of the shiny bunny took to the skies for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The rabbit was later seen hovering over a Sears store at the Toronto Eaton Centre in 2009 as part of a display for Nuit Blanche.
Tom Otterness became the first artist to design a balloon as part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in2005. But not everyone agrees that the artist deserved the top honor. In 1977, when Otterness was 25 years old, he filmed himself shooting a dog and killing it for the sake of a project called Dog Shot Film. The artist didn’t let his past dampen his excitement about creating his upside-down Humpty Dumpty balloon, though. “I’m a little dazed, to tell you the truth,” he told The New York Times. “It’s sort of overwhelmed me to be here, to actually have a 40-foot balloon in this parade and in this context. It’s fabulous.”
Nickelodeon’s favorite “super cool exploradora,” Dora the Explorer made her Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debut in 2005. Floating through the sky with her talking backpack and a giant grin, she officially became the first ever Latina balloon to be featured in the parade. “Dora has emerged as an icon in the Hispanic community and has become a favorite among all preschoolers,” said the president of Nickelodeon Television, Cyma Zarghami. “We are thrilled that she will be joining the list of great characters who have participated in the wonderful tradition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
Famous vaudevillian, Broadway and film actors, the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx) first made their Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debut in 1935, when they were at the height of their fame with comedies like Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera. But when the balloon heads reappeared in the 2003 parade, young spectators were more confused than they were impressed. “According to most reports, people just seemed confused,” Mentalfloss wrote. “While most of us are probably familiar with the Marx Brothers, suffice it to say that a five-year-old is likely not.”
Before Dora the Explorer broke racial barriers at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, her fellow Nick Jr. cartoon character Little Bill debuted as the first African-American balloon to fly in the sky in 2002. “Nick Jr. television shows and characters like Little Bill empower preschoolers and reflect the cultural diversity of our audience,” vice president of marketing for Nick Jr., Karen Driscoll said before the parade.
When the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade introduced balloons modeled after the spinning, flying pixie toys known as Sky Dancers in the mid ‘90s, it may have caused some families to relive traumatic memories. The wildly popular toys sold 15 million units, but they were recalled in 2000 after 150 injuries were reported. Injuries included incidents of temporary blindness, broken teeth, a mild concussion and a broken rib.
No other Olympic Games mascot has suffered more ridicule than the 1996 Atlanta Games mascot, Izzy the… blue splotch? With lightning eyebrows and no torso, Izzy was nicknamed by Time magazine the “sperm in sneakers” and was branded with more unfavorable names as well, including the “Post-Chernobyl Navel Lint” and “Quasismurf.” Adding to the negative was the grudge of an entire city—Athens had put forward a sentimental request for the 100th anniversary of the modern games to be held in their city. Clearly, the 1993 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade’s inclusion of a giant version of Izzy in the sky was a bold decision.
Olive Oyl, Popeye’s perpetually-in-distress girlfriend, made her debut in 1982 as one of the first female balloon characters to be featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “Even though the first parade was in 1924… the first balloon of a woman wasn’t until 1982,” Lynette Long, the president of Equal Visibility Everywhere, told DC Spotlight. “I realized through my whole life as a child, I never looked up and saw one female character, because 1982 was the first female character.”
The multi-talented performer Eddie Cantor made his presence known through nearly every medium in the early 20th century, including radio, film, television and Broadway. It wasn’t until 1940, however, that Cantor found his way not only into the theaters on Broadway, but also into the skies above it. The caricatured balloon resembling Cantor became the first to be created in a real person’s image, complete with his signature “banjo eyes,” the wide-eyed look Cantor often wore during performances. Besides the Marx Brothers, he’s also the last.
One of the longest balloons to ever grace the skies of New York was that modeled after the Nantucket Sea Monster in 1937—or so the story goes. A reported 120 feet long, the rubber balloon was later shredded and recycled for use during World War II, making it hard to verify its actual length. It was created by Tony Sarg, a Nantucket native who liked to tell the story of how he spotted the monster off the Nantucket coast and “captured” it while all of Nantucket watched. Not exactly a story filled with holiday spirit.