Film Review: ‘Life, Animated’

Over the course of 90 minutes we are introduced to Owen Suskind, a young autistic boy who navigates the world via animated Disney films. The form of ‘Life, Animated‘ is separated into three different strands that sit beside each other quite comfortably; Owen and his family are shown and interviewed, there are some clips of Disney films, and finally a series of original pieces of animation to further explore the thread of the feature as a whole. We are presented with these and they appear to seamlessly blend together, the audio layered over the differing visuals.

It is notable that Disney have allowed the use of clips from their films within this documentary. It highlights how it is widely-accepted that this is a story that needs this platform. It is a story that cannot simply be described, rather it has to be shown. Roger Ross Williams directs this exceptional piece, showing the audience the experience of the Suskind family, bringing together their story in combinations of the trio of forms.

We learn how Owen Suskind becomes non-communicative as a child and is diagnosed with autism. Parents Ron and Cornelia, tell first hand how they found ways to communicate with their son through mimicking the Disney characters, using voices and lines of dialogue to really talk about life and their surroundings.

The film then takes us with Owen as he discusses his relationship with his parents, his brother, and his girlfriend. We are introduced to the Disney club he has set up. Here he really gets to the heart of the characters and richer meanings in these animations, and in doing so reveals his own thoughts and feelings too.

Life, Animated‘ has all of these great elements – we are made to feel again familiar with the archive cartoon footage and audio, we are lead through the film with interviews with family members, the original animations bring all of the fine details of these to the screen with clarity… but the real inspiring element presented is the subject of the film, Owen. His communication to camera and with others on screen is captured perfectly.

The overall tone is genuine where many other documentaries might seek to represent information with bias or other agenda. It is a beautifully told coming-of-age tale. It explores the study of film / filmmaking, and also the strength of storytelling within all of these animations. There are limitations and problems which form for Owen as a result of these series of communications. Again the film is remarkable in it’s honesty with these situations. ‘Life, Animated’ is worth your time. It is uplifting and yet another great selection along with all of the incredibly varied, moving and culturally salient documentaries distributed by Dogwoof.

‘Life, Animated’ is available on DVD from January 30th 2017

[rating=5] | Zach Roddis

Documentary | USA, 2016 | PG | 30th January 2017 (UK) | Dogwoof | Dir.Roger Russ Williams | Buy: [DVD]