SHORT FILM REVIEW: Borrowed Time

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“BORROWED TIME”-- 4 STARS

This website and writer has long celebrated the “Pixar Punch,” the animation studio’s uncanny ability to absolutely destroy our hearts with raw and simple emotionality in perfectly calculated amounts and moments within their feature films.  In quicker chunks of time, Pixar’s animated shorts are no slouch at hitting the same body blows.  Their settings have always been warm and sunny family films, long begging the question of what would more adult fare look like in the same creative boxing gloves.  “Borrowed Time” is a striking glimpse into such a possibility.

The six-minute animated short opens on a sheriff with a long face of salt-and-pepper scruff that places him in the American West of the 19th century.  It’s a smoky sunset time of day as the man removes his hat and surveys the long-dead remnants of a wagon crash on a plateaued trail passage.  His blue eyes fight back tears as we realize this is a place he has been before.  Clear despair is front and center.  The lawman's pained breaths swallow reflected memories of tragedy revealed in flashback.

“Borrowed Time” comes from the new animated shingle studio Quorum Films.  The short has toured over twenty film festivals this year, impressing audiences to a dozen audience or best-of-show awards.  It will compete as one of the ten finalists for the Best Animated Short Oscar at the 88th Academy Awards this coming February.  The puts it squarely on the racetrack next to the light fancy of Pixar’s “Piper” and Walt Disney Animation’s “Inner Workings” shorts that came before “Finding Dory” and “Moana” respectively.  To pull off the depths of its dark themes, “Borrowed Time” is bolder and more challenging than both of those peers combined. 

Quorum combines the writer-director team of Lou Hamou-Lhadj and Andrew Coats with producer Amanda Deering Jones.  All three are fruits from the Pixar tree of creative pedigree with additional seasoning experience together at Blue Sky Studios.  Their lofty advanced skill level shows in every facet of the animated short.

With coarse and poetic darkness, “Borrowed Time” hits like a sledgehammer with heartbreaking revelation bathed in artistic brilliance.  The impeccable animated imagery shifts from a sunny past to a grim twilight hour present before glints of colors reemerge.  Two-time Academy Award winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla (“Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel”) supports the visuals with a spare-yet-sublime guitar score.  To pack this much atmosphere in six minutes is nothing short of remarkable.  

“Borrowed Time” is a bracingly mature short film that impresses to no end.  Adult animation beyond a G or PG rating is a tough sell.  I believe the talent here could be up for such a challenge.  I, for one, would love to see what this shade of theme and tone could look like as a feature film.

LESSON #1: RELIVING PAST GUILT-- In a difficult six minutes, the number one emotion on display with our aged sheriff is guilt.  He arrives at this fateful place at a personal tipping point.  His perceived shame and sin has overwhelmed him to find seek some measure of closure, positive or negative.

LESSON #2: THE PHYSICAL ANCHORS OF LOVED ONES-- We’ve seen this often, whether it’s a shirt from “Brokeback Mountain” or an entire hometown in “Manchester by the Sea.”  Locations, objects, and tokens of a person can carry strong remembrance and connection.  They act as anchors that hold both grounded memories and lost innocence.

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