Blazing through the canyons at a breakneck pace, the stagecoach tips its rickety wheels up into the air, the horses champing and stomping toward the edge of the cliff, the memory of bloodshed and regret and despair.
That’s what Pixar animators Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj have spent the last five years’ worth of days off producing. We’ve known about it since last year, but now that it’s finally online, “Borrowed Time” surpasses even the highest expectations.
This absolutely stunning short film about shadowed despair and shining forgiveness fits right in line with the Pixar ethos, even if its subject matter may seem slightly darker than the standard short fare playing before Inside Out or Toy Story 3.
Although, come to think of it, Toy Story 3 is pretty damned dark, too.
In “Borrowed Time,” a haggard sheriff returns to the spot of a youthful trauma, reliving it with each step he takes toward a cliff, seemingly unable to come to terms with a deadly mistake.
“We really wanted to make something that was a little more adult in its thematic choices, and show that animation could be a medium to tell any sort of story,” Hamou-Lhadj explains in a brief featurette showcasing their production process.
That goal seems clearest considering the violence at the heart of the short, as well as the depth of the emotional response and the sheer literal dark of the visual palette. In the brighter moments, the designs of the characters’ faces let you know that there’s a Pixar pedigree at work behind the scenes.
Even with such a brief runtime, there’s a lot to unpack: The symmetry of time and experience, the massive weight of carrying the past, the frailty of our inability to be super-human when the unthinkable happens. Obviously the animation deserves every festival laurel this thing is packing, but it would be a mistake not to also recognize the killer editing (which weaves thrilling bursts of adventure into scenes of dread despair) and a score that elevates with both symphonic swells and noodling Western guitar riffs.
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Image: Quorum Films