Life, Animated (2016)
Directed by Roger Ross Williams.
Featuring: Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind, Cornelia Suskind, Walter Suskind.
2016 91 minutes
Reviewed at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival by Dustin Putman for TheFilmFile.com, January 23, 2016.
"Life, Animated" is joyous and touching in equal measure, a documentary about a young autistic man, Owen Suskind, whose love of Disney movies held the key to a life-changing communication breakthrough. Based on the 2014 memoir "Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism," written by Owen's Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist father Ron Suskind, the film follows Owen as he prepares, at 23 years of age, to graduate from school and take the next big step toward moving into his own assisted-living condo. Through interviews with family, childhood home movies taken before and after his disorder temporarily stole him away from parents Ron and Cornelia, animated segments bringing Owen's fantastic stories to life, and a roving camera observing Owen's present-day journey, director Roger Ross Williams paints a compassionate portrait of his endearing subject.
When Owen was three, his development suddenly regressed as his motor skills deteriorated and his ability to process language abruptly shut down. Ron and Cornelia were understandably distraughtthey felt as if they had lost their childuntil they made a landmark discovery: they could still communicate with him through the characters and dialogue found in the Disney movies he delighted in watching over and over. This turning point aided in no small part to unlocking their son's mind, paving the way for the strides he took to become a high-functioning young adult experiencing all the personal successes and heartaches that come with growing up. Inspiring without being maudlin, the film thrives as Owen finds surprisingly apt parallels between the animated pictures he watches in repetition and the events which make up his sometimes challenging reality. He discusses how he has always identified most closely with the hundreds of sidekicks found in Disney's catalogue, but "Life, Animated" makes the convincing case that no one is more suited for being the hero.