In today’s world of Twitter wars and internet trolls, it can be easy to get a little discouraged as a writer and lover of film. Sometimes, I want to give up the enterprise altogether and just enjoy movies by myself to my heart’s content. Then, I will see a movie like Life, Animated and it reminds me why I do what I do, and why it is important to spread the word about special films like this.
Life, Animated is a documentary directed by Roger Ross Williams, and I think it should be required viewing for anyone who calls themselves an ‘animation addict.’ It is the beautiful story of a little boy named Owen Suskind and how he literally communicated with the world through Disney animated films.
When Owen was 3 years old, he was diagnosed with severe autism and he lost the ability to talk to his family in anything but gibberish. This continues for nearly four years. Can you imagine not being able to talk to your son for 4 years? One day, he had a breakthrough with Disney’s The Little Mermaid when Ariel says ‘my voice?’ And then another breakthrough came when his father used an Iago puppet to speak to him. He responded in complete sentences, using actual text from Disney’s Aladdin.
The film goes on to chronicle the rest of Owen’s childhood, leading up to him moving out of the house at 23 and being on his own.
It would be so easy for a film like this to be patronizing and overly-inspirational but that is not the case here. It is a profile of a family and how they struggled to communicate with one of their own. The film is not saying that Owen’s way is better or more enlightened; it’s merely saying ‘this exists and here’s how we dealt with it.’
You have to give Disney a lot of credit for Life, Animated working as effectively as it does. They allowed for their films to be heavily featured, which profiles the different changes in Owen’s life. For example, when he faces bullies, we see how Quasimodo or Simba learn to face their fears. It makes sense why Owen learned to process the world through Disney. In fact, it made me think about how on occasion I do the same thing. Like the way I was missing my Grandpa something fierce today, and I put on Up and it made me feel better. Isn’t that similar to what Owen does but to a much greater extreme?
Owen even develops his own story that is animated throughout the film. It is a story of the Legend of Lost Sidekicks. This features Baloo, Iago, Rabbit and an array of other Disney sidekicks all facing off against their evil foe. These sections were beautifully captured and reminded me of something Tomm Moore (Song of the Sea) might do in his films.
Most importantly Life, Animated reminds me of the joy that family, life and, yes, animation can and should bring into our lives. It reminds me to look at things from others point of view and to appreciate my own unique perspective. It’s a beautiful portrayal of a family and a unique soul who is a true animation addict. I highly recommend everyone find it and give it a watch. You won’t regret it.
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden