Borrowed Time Might Be the Best Animated Short of the Year

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Short Film of the Day

An outstanding side-project from a pair of Pixar animators.

There are lots of great things that get made by talented people after hours. When the workday is done and their duties are fulfilled, some people keep going and end up producing the things for which they ultimately will be remembered. Herman Melville gathered the material that would become Moby Dick while working as a common sailor; Albert Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity while working as a patent clerk; and the great Bruce Springsteen, who worked odd jobs while gigging with the various groups that would eventually merge into The E Street Band, summed up the concept best in the greatest song he ever wrote, “Racing in the Street:”

“Well some guys they just give up living/And start dying little by little, piece by piece./Some guys come home from work and wash up/And go racing in the street.”

That song, that line, and my point are all circling the same things: passion, drive, ambition, and the determination to not be defined by a job title or a salary, but rather by the things inside yourself you extract for the world to appreciate.

Now, some folks go about it smarter than others, and instead of taking any old job to pay the bills, they find whatever foothold they can in their preferred field. In terms of the film industry, there are scores of PAs, other assistants, extras, caterers, mail room clerks and stand-ins who took those lower-level jobs in order to be at least adjacent to their ultimate goals. I would never deign to call employment as a Pixar animator “lower-level,” but there is a difference between working on someone else’s project versus working on your own. Just ask Andrew Coats and Lou HamouLhadj, who get their paychecks from Pixar – Coats worked on Brave and The Good Dinosaur and Hamou-Lhadj on Wall-E and Toy Story 3 – but who for the last five years have been working after hours on their own animated short, Borrowed Time. And I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the best shorts I’ve ever seen.

It’s animated in a familiar style and it’s hyper-emotional, but this is no Pixar flick, and it’s totally too heavy for your kids. Borrowed Time takes its structure and setting from classic Westerns like those of John Ford or Budd Boetticher, but shortly into the film there’s a thematic shift that reveals this isn’t going to be a quick-draw shoot-em-up, but a much weightier tale of regret and forgiveness. The synopsis:

A withered sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on.

See what I’m talking about? Definitely not for kids. It is however, tailor-made for any thinking, feeling, breathing adult with the ability to be moved by great art and powerful storytelling, because that’s what Borrowed Time is, as evidenced by the dozen-plus awards it’s already won on the festival circuit. And don’t be surprised if come late February next year you see Coats and Hamou-Lhadj on stage at the Kodak Theater accepting the Oscar for Best Animated Short. Either way, though, when people are capable of creating outstanding work like this, they don’t remain on someone’s staff very long; they start hiring their own.

Enjoy Borrowed Time, remember the names Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, and start expecting (more) great things from them.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist