Published on July 15th, 2016 | by Tracey Barrientos
Life Animated is a beautiful coming-of-age documentary about a young man who suffers from autism and uses animated Disney films to express his feelings and understand the world around him. At the age of three, Owen Suskind had begun to become withdrawn into himself while also loosing his motor skills and becoming silent. He is diagnosed with autism and his parents and brother are less than hopeful that they will ever be able to communicate and connect with their son. They are left heartbroken until one day as the Suskind’s enjoyed a family movie night, they find out that Owen had been memorizing the lines of the beloved characters in these films. Soon they realize that they could connect and communicate through Disney dialogue. This opens a door to a life where Owen can express himself and communicate with others and also allows him to graduate and move out on his own. Audiences get to follow him on his journey to adulthood.
Owen’s father Ron Suskind is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal and he is also the best selling author of Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. “This would make a great film” was the comment that set the documentary in motion. With the help of his long time friend; Oscar award winning director for best documentary short, Roger Ross Williams, they were able to bring Owen’s life to the big screen. Many of the documentary films that are autism based, are films that the audience views as outsiders looking in. Director Williams masterfully films the documentary in such a way that the audience experiences what it’s like on the inside looking out. We get to hear what Owen hears and how he thinks. We actually get to connect with Owen almost as if we are in the same room with him.
Prior to the screening of this film, I hadn’t fully understood the challenges that a person with autism might go through. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to not only screen this film but to also gain perspective on autism and understand the obstacles that the entire family goes through. That you can find hope and connection through anything. In Owen’s case it happened to be through Disney that his family was able to connect and communicate together. However other situations it could be through something entirely different. It shows us that there is hope to be found. This film gave me an entirely different way of looking at life, that it truly can be animated. The film is extremely uplifting and heartfelt and shouldn’t be missed.