Perhaps there should be no real surprise in a Pixar animator’s penchant for twanging heartstrings with a perfectly placed pixel or two. Toys holding hands in a last goodbye, a man’s life lived in fast-forward until he’s old and alone. This time the animators have struck out on their own, and Borrowed Time is not for children.

Animators-slash-college buddies Lou Hamou-Lhadj and Andrew Coats take less than six minutes to tell their story, but it’s enough. Galvanised by the idea that animation isn’t just for kids, their side project (yes, side project) focuses on an ageing Sheriff returning to a moment which changed things forever. Hamou-Lhadj and Coats state their intentions early and never hesitate to follow through. Against a background of truly stunning animation (the level of detail throws down the gauntlet for Pixar proper), they build their castles in the air with almost supernatural speed. There is no uncanny valley here; the Sheriff’s eyes shine with humanity from the first close-up.

The plot builds itself in small moments, in the mise-en-scène. A swift snap-change in colour palette alerts us to the past and present; the play of light on subtly detailed skin builds a picture of a family in nanoseconds. The devil really is in the details, and Borrowed Time is a masterpiece of tiny touches working together to form a stunning whole. It’s not just the heartstrings that are grabbed hold of, either, but the heart in its entirety. For such a short slice of your day, Borrowed Time delivers pulse-racing action in under two minutes, deploying a sharp cut that would make even the steeliest of viewers jump. Then another two minutes – even less – and the rollercoaster has shifted again, halving the heart in two.

There is a particular moment at the film’s end when the clouds begin to burn with the fire of the setting sun. The craftsmanship displayed is worth it alone, but Borrowed Time is more than just perfectly placed pixels; it’s a connection between art, technology and the heart that, like its protagonist’s past, won’t be forgotten.

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INFORMATION

CAST: Greg Dykstra, Nick Pitera, Steve Purcell

DIRECTORS: Lou Hamou-Lhadj, Andrew Coats

WRITERS: Lou Hamou-Lhadj, Andrew Coats, Mark C Harris

MUSIC: Gustavo Santaolalla

SYNOPSIS: A weathered sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on.