Thursday, July 14, 2016

‘Life Animated’ Will Open Your Mind and Warm Your Heart

Review of the documentary, "Life, Animated."
The Suskind family celebrates Walt's birthday / Owen Suskind in his new digs. (The Orchard)
MOVIE REVIEW
For many of us, the condition of autism remains a mystery. Fortunately, the new documentary by Academy Award winning director Roger Ross Williams gives us a glimpse of what it must be like to be autistic and how difficult it is to live with as well as communicate with a loved with autism. And while that in itself is reason enough to watch this documentary, the whole thing is surrounded by the power of Disney animation which makes that much more special for any Disney fan.
 

Some might think that Life, Animated is just another cog in the Disney publicity wheel, but it’s not. It’s an independent film that appreciates Disney films because Owen Suskind, the main protagonist, does.
 

Owen was a healthy, normal child who at the age of three suddenly stopped talking and began to withdraw from his family. For years Owen’s family tried to communicate with him with no success until one day Owen spoke what his family thought was gibberish, but was actually a line he quoted from The Little Mermaid film. The family discovered a new way to talk to Owen by quoting lines from Disney films. His father, New York Times bestselling author, Ron Suskind, wrote about the experience in his book, Life Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism.
 

Life Animated, the documentary, tells two stories: retelling the story of young Owen and life adventures of an young adult Owen moving out of his family home for the first time living a new life of independence. It’s a very intimate film that showcases not only Owen and Ron, but also Ron’s wife, Cornelia and Owen’s older brother, Walt. All of the family, including Owen, explain what life was like then and what it is like now. All of these points of view help the viewer to step into each of the family member’s shoes.

When Owen was very young, one of the best ways to calm him was to allow him to watch many Disney animated movies. The films helped him communicate with his family as well as help him understand his feelings and to this day, he still reflects on his favorite scenes that mirror what he is going through at that particular time. Peter Pan is about growing up. The Little Mermaid is about communicating without a voice. Bambi is about learning how to live independently and so it goes.
 

Life Animated is heartwarming and even heartbreaking at times. Owen isn’t simple-minded, but he is very literal. In Owen’s mind, life is very black and white, but his family is there to show him color. We get to see Owen’s joy as he falls in love and his pain when he wonders out loud way life is filled with disappointment at times. We see his mother struggling with wanting to protect her son and at the same time releasing him to the world. We see Ron struggle with his own mortality knowing that he won’t always be around for his son. And we see Walt struggle trying to explain things to his brother that can’t be found in a Disney film, like sex.
 

Some of the film’s highlights include scenes where Owen gets to meet two of his favorite idols: Jonathan Freeman and Gilbert Gottfried – the voices of Jafar and his pet parrot Iago.
As Owen gains life skills, we see just how talented he really is. He is an artist, a storyteller, a group leader and even an inspiring speaker.
 

Life Animated is a feel good story and documentary for those who don’t like documentaries. Don’t miss this.

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