"Life, Animated" tells the incredible story of Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who found his voice through the dialogue of Disney films. It was very brave of this family to allow cameramen to infiltrate their lives for two years but director Roger Ross Williams has treated the material in a gentle and honorable way. It taps into every parent’s fears as this seemingly typical toddler suddenly loses his ability to communicate and relate to others. We see the family struggle as doctors and special schools could not seem to reach a breakthrough with Owen’s struggles until finally, a simple line of dialogue from a Disney film turned their lives around. What follows are moments of extreme joy as Owen thrives in school because of the moral lessons learned from Disney films. There are also moments that are incredibly sad when he gets lonely and sees himself as a sidekick without a hero to help. The stories from Owen's childhood are inspirational and emotional, but the documentary takes a turn once it starts chronicling his relationship with his girlfriend. It is important to see that Owen becomes a functioning member of society but it made for a slow second half that lacks the purpose of the first half. I also feel that they missed a chance to create more awareness about autism. We get a very basic understanding of the condition but this film is definitely more about Disney than it is about autism. Stylistically, the story is enhanced by original animation that brings each chapter of Owen’s childhood to life. It steps out of chronological order so that we can understand where Owen has been and where he is headed all at the same time. As a Disney fan, I admittedly relished the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite classics and the scene with the surprise guests was priceless. I don’t anticipate “Life, Animated” winning the Oscar for Best Documentary but it is certainly worth watching to see how Disney movies changed one boy’s life for the better.
[Pictured: The original animations help to bring Owen’s incredible story to life]