The nominating process is underway, and the debates are firing… Now it’s my turn. What do I think the Academy should give the little golden men to?
Well, I want to talk about short films… Or, a short film to be specific.
*SPOILERS ahead, for anyone who hasn’t seen this film yet*
Made by several Pixar wizards when they weren’t working on the last batch of animated features, Borrowed Time sounds a lot like the 1979 animated short film Banjo, the Woodpile Cat. Most animation fans know the story about that cat cartoon. During the mid-1970s, upstart Don Bluth and many then-new young animators were frustrated when working for Disney’s feature animation wing. The executives running the show at the time felt they knew what Walt wanted for his studio and company, but they were really just holding them back from reaching their full potential. This grated on many of the young “punks”, looking to make their mark and do great things with the medium.
Banjo, the Woodpile Cat felt more like a Golden Age-era short, Bluth had made it clear that he wanted to recapture the magic of the early Disney animated features and their best shorts. Bluth eventually started a good-sized exodus, he and over ten other animators left the studio in 1979, making headlines and causing panic at the house of mouse. Shortly afterwards, he was already making features and competing with Disney. His leaning towards darkness separated his work from what Disney was putting out at the time.
Borrowed Time by contrast is a short film that Pixar championed and supported, through what they called a “Co-op” program. Animators and creatives were allowed to make an off-kilter project when not at work on whatever they were assigned to at the time. Borrowed Time probably can’t be a Pixar film in this day and age for multiple reasons. It isn’t family friendly in any way, shape, or form. Throughout, this Western’s tone is very moody despite having bits of a thrilling action set-piece. A young sheriff comes to terms with the death of his father, which he caused by accident. The short doesn’t sugarcoat that, and is probably a PG-13 level endeavor.
From what I’ve heard through a friend in the industry, a certain group of people weren’t too happy with Pixar letting this short film get made… You guessed it, The Walt Disney Company. Borrowed Time, an animated short film for adults that isn’t juvenile like Sausage Party, is not something they can franchise or make a live-action/hyper-real CG remake out of 20 years from now. In the last few years, Bob Iger’s Disney has seriously streamlined things, so something like this has no place within the Disney field. Neither did Henry Selick’s stop-motion film The Shadow King, which was also going to be a Pixar production.
It’s a miracle that Borrowed Time exists, and it deserves much more exposure. With that, I feel that it deserves the Oscar for Best Animated Short, because it’s a great film and was made despite the odds that often prevent this kind of smart, thoughtful adult animation from being made on American soil. A win would perhaps show the people upstairs that yes, this kind of animation can succeed and has a place in a modern animation field dominated mostly by unchallenging lighthearted comedies, screaming yellow tic-tacs, and the occasional smart family film.
Will it win? Probably not. Does the Academy even watch half of the shorts? They don’t watch all the animated films, that’s for sure, so they’ll probably just give it to mainline Pixar’s Piper. Piper‘s cute, funny, and it’s a fine short, but that’s all it really is. Borrowed Time is something else, and then some.
Give it to the Western.