Indie-mation, Reviews

[Review] Oscar Nominated Shorts: ‘Borrowed Time’

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In our final review of this week’s mini review series of the Academy Award nominated animated shorts, we’re going to discuss Borrowed Time, an independent animated short by Pixar artists Lou Hamou-Lhadj and Andrew Coats. The short tells the heart-wrenching story of a a weathered Sheriff who returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget.

I remember seeing this short for the first time a few months ago when it was available on Vimeo for a limited time and being absolutely in awe. I had been following the team for a little while, but was not sure what to expect from the short. It looked visually very appealing, but also very much like a fun short for all ages – which it didn’t turn out to be.


We can’t talk about Borrowed Time without discussing its story. Short films are a great medium for visual storytelling and this short does a great deal of that. While at first glance this might look like another fun animated short for all ages, that is definitely not the case. Borrowed Time is a beautiful and mature story about loss and finding the strength to move on. The short is very simple yet very powerful. I loved how they managed to get this much emotion and feeling into a six-minute short, as some filmmakers don’t manage to get it done in a 90-minute or so film. I also loved how mature it was and how they managed to combine a more cartoony visual style with such a mature and dark story.

From a visual standpoint this short delivers on every aspect and the visuals definitely enhance the story. From the beautiful lighting to the fantastic animation to the unique designs, the team delivered a incredibly high quality short on all fronts. As someone who loves design, watching this short was a treat. It had some of the best character and set designs I’ve seen in a while (and especially for a short with a limited budget), some of the best lighting that clearly enhanced the emotional beats of the story, and some incredible animation that really brought on every little emotion that they wanted you to feel.


One of my favorite scores of all time is The Last of Us video game score, and to my surprise, Gustavo Santaolalla, who composed that score for The Last of Us, also composed the music for Borrowed Time. The short’s music, and sound mixing, is absolutely fantastic and Santaolalla once again delivers an exciting, original, score that beautifully fits the short. In addition to the score, the wonderful sound mixing brings you right into the short and doesn’t let you out until it’s over.

Borrowed Time is probably my favorite short up for the award this weekend and definitely deserves to win. It delivers on all fronts and doesn’t get boring even after watching it over and over again. The amazing visuals, the fantastic story, the beautiful score, and all these things combined would make this a very much deserved win for sure.

What do you think of Borrowed Time? Should it win the Oscar?

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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About Max

Max is an animation addict from The Netherlands. His favorite animated movies are Beauty and the Beast and Ratatouille, and he is a big fan of everything Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks related. He loves reading and collecting art books and one day he hopes to work for a major animation studio. Follow his art blog:
  • Interesting review, thanks for the thoughts!

    To me, Borrowed Time was definitely visually appealing. I like the character designs and the overall style. What didn’t work for me was the story. It felt extremely forced, and pandering to emotion. I did not feel any truth in it. It very much seemed to be set up to make the audience feel certain things, and I can’t stand when films do that.

    It also made very little sense. We have no idea why they were being chased (there is no good motivation to chase a Sheriff that I can think of (the Sheriff chases the bad guy, not the other way around), and if you wanted him dead the better plan would be pull up alongside and just shoot them both). Or why they would willingly head for a huge cliff. Look at how the action plays out when the wheel breaks. They would have had to already be going off that cliff for the crash to cause that. Physics indicates that they would be dead either way there, even if they had tried to turn at the last minute at such speeds. Also guns tend to have safeties to prevent such accidents, and the Sheriff fired more shots than the weapon held anyway. The gun that he was just firing was on his back at the end. How? Why? His child falls off the wagon and he calmly returns the gun to his back instead of shoving it aside and going to help his son? Doesn’t add up. And what happened to the bad guy? Surely if the accident happened, that villain would have rode up and quickly killed them both, leaving zero witnesses. Was he killed? If so, why were they still running? You don’t have to tell all these details, but it has to make sense if you choose not to. You have to know as the storyteller why these things. This story lacked sincerity and truth. It consisted of scenes (interesting scenes, don’t get me wrong) crafted for the sole purpose of bringing about an emotional response, and any emotional response based on manipulation isn’t real or honest.

    “Borrowed Time is a beautiful and mature story about loss and finding the strength to move on.”

    I see a similar sentiment elsewhere online. This isn’t actually correct, though. He has clearly not moved on, even after decades. And then he is going to commit suicide! He hasn’t moved on at all! We have no idea what happens after fade to black, as well. Finding a watch is not going to make up for a lifetime of suffering. If anything, the memento of the event would push such an unstable character further into darkness. As someone who has suffered from depression, you don’t just “get over it” especially when it has haunted you for decades. Even if we make the assumption that he regains his will to live from a watch (unlikely) the story itself as it is told is not about finding the strength to move on. Literally he was just one fortunate glance away from killing himself, so there’s no reason to suspect that magically changed. That’s not how humans work. The story, as it is told, is about being crushed by one event of your childhood to the point of suicide, and harboring suffering for decades. Any future-story that is assumed by the audience is literally assumed by the audience, not by the storyteller. We need to look at the story told, not the story assumed once credits are rolling. We end on a battered and broken man kneeling at the edge of a cliff he came to throw himself off. If he had gotten up and walked away, then maybe we could make the assumption. Maybe. (Even then I’m not sure it’s a fair assumption, because of the rest of the story, and human nature.)

    I’m glad you and so many others enjoyed Borrowed Time, and I simultaneously think it’s up to us as filmmakers to see where it succeeds and where it falls far short. We need to make honest films, not ones engineered to produce a certain emotional response. Tell the truth; let the appropriate emotions come about. There is no reason a story can’t be told that brings about emotion. However if the goal is getting that emotion to definitely happen in the viewer, the film is dishonest. Borrowed Time was beautifully made, but the story made no actual sense and was not truthful. Above all, it was not about finding strength to move on. It told the story of a man devastated his entire life and ready to end it all willingly. That is not strength or moving on. He harbored anguish for decades. (Take out ten seconds of him stumbling towards the cliff at the start and put it at the end so he stands and turns around to go back to living, and maybe there’s an argument for it being about moving on.)

    It seems like from the brief glimpse of the original concept, the original idea was much more honest. But listen to how often they talk about wanting to make a film that wasn’t for kids. I think, honestly, that may have gotten in the way here. It took what was a sincere thing and made the focus something else. It became about challenging an audience’s perceptions instead of telling a truthful story. Animation always needs to be about an honest story first. The audience’s response will follow.

    Anyways, my thoughts on it. No doubt it was an absolutely beautifully crafted piece of animation, regardless.

    • Max

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, JK!

  • This short gives me all the feels and was completely out of left field seeing it….
    I think it really deserves the Oscar this year it just made me feel and really tear up almost to full on crying :,))))))
    I love Piper but this one really got me the most, awesome review :DDDD

  • Dante Panora

    I’d say that the biggest problem with the short is that it feels like a scene from a longer movie, like perhaps the very end of a second act to the beginning of a third. It does feel like there’s some important context missing that would help explain the emotions in the scene. But I have to admit it is one of the most beautiful looking CGI films I’ve seen in a while.