Life, Animated is a touching documentary about Owen Suskind, who was diagnosed at the age of three with a developmental disorder, a severe form of autism that prevented him from communicating. Conventional therapy didn’t help and it wasn’t until his parents put on a VHS of The Little Mermaid that the young Owen began to change. It seemed like the classic Disney narratives were allowing him to express emotions, teaching him to negotiate with the outside world once more.
This against-all-odds story sounds suspiciously manufactured by the House of Mouse as a promotional puff piece, and at first, Roger Ross Williams’ film treads a fine line between inspirational and corporate-mandated. However, Williams quickly dispels conjecture by adroitly handling the subject of autism with great empathy, making Owen’s story both intimate and deeply sincere. Interviews and well-placed animated segments counterbalance occasional veers into twee territory, and provide insight and much emotion. The overall result demonstrates the power of cinema and shows how embracing make-believe worlds can teach you about the real one. You’d have to have lost your poor unfortunate soul to not be moved by this life-affirming story.
Life, Animated | Directed by Roger Ross Williams (US, 2016). Starts June 22
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