Rarely is a documentary about a disability uplifting, rarely does it have the audience in stitches and even rarer is it filled with clips of Disney. Life Animated has all three. Owen Suskind (23) is a young man with autism who uses Disney films to understand the world and decipher emotions; it is from Jungle Book he learns about friendship and he compares his older brother Walter’s unhappiness to that of Disney characters’: “Walter doesn’t want to to grow up like Peter Pan and Mowgli.”
As Owen graduates from school and moves out of the family home into assisted living, the limitations of Disney as a blueprint of life starts to become clear – Walter’s attempt to talk about sex with Owen is a particularly funny and touching example. The audience can’t help but connect with Owen and his quirky use of language that can be unintentionally amusing but always endearing: “Independence means great and fabulous.”
Throughout the film there are animated pencil sketches of Owen’s life and a colourful animation of a story Owen has written. While the beautifully drawn sketches feel like a storyboard – turning Owen’s own real journey into that of the films he loves so much; the animated story not only goes some way to get inside Owen’s head, but proves that fiction and animation can be used effectively to reveal reality. The soundscape of the film should also be applauded for sharing with the audience how Owen feels assaulted by the world with his over-stimulated senses.
Heart-warming, funny and masterfully crafted, Life Animated is a highly entertaining film with a refreshing mix of animation and real footage. A perfect example of how documentary films can be at once comedic and thought-provoking without being to the detriment of either.
RATING: 4 /5
DIRECTOR: Roger Ross Williams
SYNOPSIS: Owen Suskind is an autistic young man who uses Disney films to understand the world around him.