Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Banjo of Pixar: 'Borrowed Time' on Vimeo For Limited Time

For a while, we've heard about a little project called Borrowed Time...

It's a short film from two Pixarians, Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj. They were working on it for five years while working on the studio's feature-length pictures. Shown at various film festivals since last year, it is not a family film by any means, and is something that Pixar - and before anyone assumes, I do love Pixar and I think they excel at making family films - would probably not think of making.

Before I go on, here's where you can watch it. It's on Vimeo for a limited time, as it is now a Staff Pick. What follows are spoilers...

It's a Western, albeit a very grizzled and moody one. Poignant and very direct, it's about a sheriff who visits the very cliff where his father died. Through brief flashbacks to a wild wagon chase, we see that the sheriff - in attempting to save his father - was responsible. It comes as a shock, but yet none of it ever feels so forced. The short's aesthetic rings similar to Pixar's house style, but very detailed yet very abstract. The humans feel like they're from a Pixar film, but an unmade, PG-13 Pixar film.

Coats himself emphasized the significance of the darker tone, saying "In America, animation has largely become synonymous with kids’ films, whereas elsewhere around the world it’s celebrated as a medium that can be used to tell any story. We feel this cultural difference limits the potential audience and range of themes in American animation, and is a large part of why we chose to make Borrowed Time."

Beautifully said. When I clamor for more adult-oriented animated features here in America, this is the kind of thing I'm asking for. Not lowbrow, middle school-level raunchfests like Sausage Party, or a good chunk of what passes as "adult animation" on television.

Hamou-Lhadj adds, "Having worked on family films with a lot of heart and comedy, we wanted to do something outside of our comfort zone: a serious, action drama. We knew this would be a huge challenge for us."

In a way, this short kind of reminds me of Don Bluth's Banjo the Woodpile Cat. He pitched it during his time at Disney, it got turned down, so he and a couple of the young animators worked on it outside of the studio for roughly four years. It attempted to explore what early-to-mid 70s Disney was staying away from (more classical animation, legitimately perilous situations, less comedic tone), things Bluth pushed for before his exit. Eventually, Disney revisited the bite and the gusto that made the Walt films work, Pixar however has yet to go for the subject matter of something like Borrowed Time. Will they ever? Probably not, but perhaps - hopefully - another American animation studio can do the same. Someone smaller maybe, like Reel FX.

It'll be offline in roughly two weeks...


  1. Just a question. How long do you think it will be before an American animated film in the same vein as "Borrowed Time"--one aimed ad adults, but not a comedy-- is released to theaters and is a financial success? Will it happen within the next five years? The next 10 years? The next 20?

    1. It could happen anytime, really. At this point, all we can do is anticipate the moment.