Film Review: Life, Animated

Roger Ross Williams’ Life, Animated is an uplifting documentary with a charismatic subject. The film is both informative and very entertaining.

Owen Suskind was developed autism at the age of three. As he withdrew into a silent state, his family worried he would not interact with them properly again. However, Owen learned to communicate through his beloved Disney animated films…

Life, Animated is based on the book by Ron Suskind, about his son’s Owen’s struggles with autism. The film is an upbeat affair, with director Roger Ross Williams keeping an emphasis on the family at the heart of the film, rather than the condition. Life, Animated is a very personal story, although it may well speak to others with experiences of autism. The film’s protagonist, Owen, is both charming and entertaining.

With plenty of clips from Disney animated films, Williams weaves the story of Owen’s childhood and early adulthood. The film is something of a coming-of-age tale; the present day clips focus on Owen moving out and his relationships, whilst the flashbacks cover his childhood and the effect of his condition. The film offers insight into how animated films such as the ones featured could help those struggling to communicate. It also tells the personal story of what the film’s mean to Owen. Clips from Disney films are interspersed throughout, and really aid with storytelling.

Interviews with family members are pieced together with these clips and fly-on-the-wall style filming. This works well to offer an intimate portrait of the family. Although the focus is on Owen, Williams takes the time to reveal the impact on other family members. The recollections and thoughts of Owen’s brother Walter are rather moving. The original animated sequences telling Owen’s story of sidekicks is a wonderful touch. These really reveal something about Owen’s mindset without needing an abundance of words.

On one level, the film reveals the power and impact of Disney films. But Life, Animated is much more than this. The film is a warm and engaging portrait.

Life, Animated is out on DVD on Monday 30th January 2017.