Life, Animated (4 stars)

Life, Animated

Inspirational documentary from Roger Ross Williams focusing on a Disney-loving autistic boy

Oscar-winning documentarian Roger Ross Williams has found the most incredible, inspirational subject in Life, Animated. At the age of three, Owen Suskind was diagnosed with a severe form of autism. His motor skills deteriorated and he soon stopped talking. His parents were informed that some children with his condition never regain the power of speech.

Based on the book by Owen's father Ron, Life, Animated charts all the emotional highs and lows of parents who refused to accept that their son was forever trapped in the 'prison of autism'. The breakthrough came when they realised that Owen's passion for Disney animated features provided him with the means to communicate. What they had assumed to be gibberish coming from his lips was actually lines of dialogue from Disney classics that he had memorised. Peter Pan's reluctance to grow up, Bambi's distress at the loss of his mother, Pinocchio's desire to be a real boy all chimed with Owen's fears about the world around him.

Williams combines Suskind family home movies with clips from the Disney back catalogue and animated sequences from a story that Owen himself devised to tell what happened once the family found a life-line through the wonderful world of Disney. It is a sentimental and emotional journey but Williams does not shy away from confronting some of the more complex issues that arise. A Disney view of the world has its limits and doesn't really deal with sex or situations unlikely to end in a happy ever after. The future is especially troubling as Owen's parents inevitably age and his brother (named Walt ironically) assumes a sense of responsibility for the welfare of his sibling.

Life, Animated follows Owen as he moves towards adulthood and successfully negotiates challenges that would once have seemed impossible. It is an irresistible human story of a triumph against all the odds.

Selected release from Fri 9 Dec.

Life, Animated

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 29min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Roger Ross Williams
  • Cast: Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind,
  • UK release: 9 December 2016

At the age of three, Owen Suskind was diagnosed with severe autism and stopped talking. His parents finally realised that his passion for Disney animated movies gave him a way of communicating. Williams doesn't shy away from complex issues such as the limitations of interacting with the world via Disney, but incredibly…