Carl Fredricksen, the lovable, grumpy star of Disney/Pixar’s UP, would never have made it to Paradise Falls without one important thing: the balloons that lifted him and his house UP to begin with. Helium balloons – and lots of them – were responsible for Carl’s adventure, but the current helium shortage might soon make such balloons the stuff of legends.
Already the helium shortage has caused Tokyo Disneyland to suspend the sale of Mickey Mouse-shaped helium balloons. An official at Oriental Land Co., the company that runs Tokyo Disneyland, stated that “Delivery of our orders cannot be fulfilled because suppliers are finding it difficult to obtain the gas.” He reassured guests that “we will resume sales of balloons as soon as we can secure supplies.”
When this might happen is still up in the air (pardon the pun). Helium is produced by distilling natural gas, and the US government is responsible for about 75% of the world’s helium distillation and production. But in 1996 the government mandated that helium production be privatized by 2015 and all government stockpiles of helium sold off by then. This date is looming, but few private business have risen to the occasion. In the meantime, consumers of helium – like the Disney parks – are facing price increases and supply shortages. To make matters worse, an accident at a US helium production facility this past summer has impacted the amount of helium available for purchase.
It might be odd to think of a balloon containing life-saving properties, but helium is one of the most critical elements of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines. The gas is used to cool the magnets that make such medical imagining possible. Thus, the shortage won’t just impact park guests: it may also impact the quality of health care that hospitals can deliver. In fact, at least one hospital has stopped doing MRI tests, according to Japan’s /Daily Yomiuri/ newspaper.
While sales of helium balloons have been placed on hold at Tokyo Disneyland, an Oriental Land Co. official noted that “There have not been a lot of inquiries from our guests” about the lack of balloons for sale. Perhaps the abundance of other cool Disney merchandise and available souvenirs will make the lack of balloons a non-issue for park guests; only time will tell.
There is no indication at this point of any other Disney park ceasing sales of character-shaped helium balloons.
Thank you to WDWForGrownUps for the use of their photo.