This short is kind of like Keaton & co. leafed through all their gag ideas, pulled three at random and glued them all together--presto!--The Balloonatic. The three main settings of this film, a carnival fun house, a hot air balloon, and the wilderness, neatly encapsulate Buster Keaton's primary habitats: the "fun" house (One Week, The Haunted House, The Electric House), the large mechanical prop, usually a form of transportation (The Boat, The Navigator, The General), and rural America (The Paleface, Our Hospitality, Battling Butler). If you want a crash course in the Keatonian method, you could do worse than this short.
Themes and motifs aside, The Balloonatic is very loosely bound together. Fans of the intricacies and sophistication Buster would later perfect in his features might be charmed by the individual segments but not so amused that the elements never come together in any kind of consistency.
Nevertheless, the first shot of the film is a beaut: in pitch darkness, Buster lights a match; we see the crown of his porkpie hat. He lifts his head up, fear evident on his harshly lit features. A bold cinematic opener to a mostly silly short.
Petrified of the skeletons in the fun house, he's shot out through a trap door, landing backside-first in front of The House of Trouble. Buster gets out of there quickly enough and stumbles upon a balloon launch. The giant balloon is a typically gargantuan prop to dwarf Keaton's already undersized frame. The unexpectedness of its appearance (as opposed to common transports like cars or boats) lends this short an air of the fantastic. It also offers up a smooth thematic transition, from the amusement park (where Buster is denied any of its pleasures) to another form of Sunday afternoon merriment.
Buster wanders into the balloon launch and a workman gestures for Buster to attach a good luck pennant to the top of the balloon. The ballooner (seriously, this is what balloon pilots are called) climbs into the basket, releases the ballasts, and...the bottom falls out. An unexpected and totally unexplained joke. The ballooner is left on the ground and no one, least of all Buster, is aware anyone is aboard the wayward dirigible.