Directed by Roger Ross Williams
Released July 1, 2016
Not everyone sees the world the same way. Movies are an interesting representation of life because they’re created based on how a director envisions the world as told by a screenwriter and presented to the audience via a cast of performers. Animation offers another portal into the world by drawing images to show what could be and not conforming to the same three-dimensional interpretation of life. Disney movies hold a special place in the history of cinema, appealing broadly to children and adults throughout the ages, and to see how one man communicates with the world through his love for Disney movies is truly incredible.
“Life, Animated” tells the heartwarming, inspiring story of Owen Suskind, who at the age of three was diagnosed with autism and became mostly nonverbal after that point. As Owen grows up, his parents realize that he is at his brightest and most energetic when he is watching Disney films, and that it goes way beyond that. He has internalized and memorized so much of his favorite films that he is able to view and express himself to the world through his understanding of what happens in those movies. As his family and those around him realize what he sees and what he can say to them, the possibilities for how Owen can thrive become considerably less bounded by what was initially viewed as a severe limitation.
It’s hard not to find a soft spot for Disney movies, and to see someone relate to them on such an unparalleled level to the point that he uses them as his way to talk to the world is eye-opening and extremely enticing. The clips that are shown throughout this documentary illustrate the most poignant and helpful scenes that Owen comes back to again and again and that he can quote word-for-word. He has latched on to the romanticized ideas that make up Disney movies and used that as his framework for what the world should be like.
The construction of this Oscar-nominated documentary uses animation at various points to convey how Owen is feeling about something and how he relates to an experience, and that combined with heartfelt testimonials from his family members and from Owen himself results in a very effective and involving look at his life. It’s all but guaranteed that there are few adults that love Disney as much as he does, but to see the joy he gets from the wealth of popular films that have been formative for so many children drives an affirming and optimistic nonfiction spotlight on one man achieving and thriving thanks to his connection to something that for him has deep meaning.