Life, Animated is a moving documentary about Owen Suskind, an autistic man who has learned to find a better life through the animated Disney films and characters. Owen, now 23, was three when he was diagnosed with regressive autism, where a child seems to develop typically and then start to lose speech and other social skills. It is troubling to see home movies where Owen is playing just like every other boys. And then what every parents dreads: Owen, their youngest son, gets more and more withdrawn. His parents, Ron and Cornelia talk about the sadness and despair of getting the news. According to Ron, Owen could speak only “gibberish” and was very agitated. The only thing that would calm him was to watch Disney animation with his older brother Walter. Then came a few words. Was it significant? The doctors did not think so. And then complete, complex sentence. The Disney films were the key that open the door into Owen’s brain. Owen even says he learn to read by studying the film’s credits. With family photos and films, interviews with Owen, his family and his doctors we get a glimpse of his evolution. Owen identifies more strongly with the sidekicks characters from Disney animation. Timon (The lion king),, Ariel (The little mermaid) and most particularly Iago (Aladdin) have helped him to understand life. Owen often imitate their voices when he speaks, quoting lines from the Disney films. During a screening of Aladdin at school actor Jonathan Freeman, who voices Jafar, drops by to do a reading. All of a sudden, Gilbert Gottfried pops in. Gottfried is the voice Iago, Owen’s most cherished Disney character. Owen is ecstatic. Owen is now at a crossroad in his life. He just graduated from school and becomes more independent when he moves into his own apartment and start looking for a job. There are setbacks. When he and his girlfriend (also autistic) break-up, it is heartbreaking. His family is concerned about his future. Cornelia and Ron know that they won’t always be there. And brother Walter is aware of the enormous responsibility ahead. This an amazing story to tell. It’s a film about the power of art. And it sheds light on autism like no other film has done. So far, the best documentary this year. And a sure tear-jerker.
And the Oscar went to… Life, Animated lost Documentary feature to the 7 hours O.J : Made in America.
Roger Ross Williams
Based on the book by Ron Suskind
Life, Animated: A story of sidekicks, heroes, and autism
Rated Parental Guidance