Two Pixar animators explore the depths of grief and guilt in ‘Borrowed Time’

It may look like a Pixar film and sound like a Pixar film, but animated short “Borrowed Time” is far different than any family-friendly fare the computer-animated film division of Disney might produce.

The reason for all the similarities comes in the short film’s creators, Lou Hamou-Lhadj and Andrew Coats, both of whom work as animators at Pixar. The pair produced the short, an exploration of guilt and grief, as a side project.

“A goal for us was to make something that kind of contested the notion of animation being a genre, and one for children specifically,” Hamou-Lhadj said in a featurette released explaining the impetus behind the creation of “Borrowed Time.”

“We really wanted to make something that was a little bit more adult in the thematic choices, and show that animation could be a medium to tell any sort of story.”

The short is as visually stunning as one would expect from most any Pixar short, with an immense canyon backdrop that serves as the perfect canvas for a battle between darkness and light. 

A grizzled sheriff serves as the film’s sole protagonist, revisiting a location from his past, where he made a devastating error. 

The film plays out, cross-cutting between the present and the sheriff’s memory, as he relives the mistakes of a bygone youth and struggles with the idea of making things right, for once and for all.

That material is dark and touches on topics that traditional animation has little room for, including survivor’s guilt, depression and bald-faced grief.

“We wanted to take the stereotype, the strong, physical cowboy that doesn’t wear their emotions on their sleeve and see what it would look like to take that to a place that’s deeper and more emotional to him,”  Coats said of the short. “And see what that looks like in the western iconography.”

The short has played at dozens of film festivals; as to its reception, “responses vary,” Coats said.

“People’s expectations of what animation is to them varies,” Coats said in the video. “It’s great because that means we’re challenging what people are expecting. And that’s what we set out to do in the beginning.”

“Borrowed Time” is available to stream on Vimeo for a limited time. 

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Directors, Lou Hamou-Lhadj & Andrew Coats discuss the origins of "Borrowed Time."

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