2016 has been an interesting year as it has allowed me to watch several portrayals abour the issue of autism. Ranging from the more realistic X/Y and Jack of the Red Hearts, to the much less realistic The Accountant (my review is here); it’s good to see that a way of life which affects so many individuals is being given the attention it deserves.
I was lucky enough to originally see Roger Ross William’s new film at Sundance London back in June 2016 and, even then, I knew what I had watched was not just a great film about autism, but also one of the best documentaries of 2016.
Based on Ron Suskind’s best-selling book, “Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism,” Life, Animated follows the story of Owen Suskind, a 23 year old young man who spent most of his early childhood unable to speak and was eventually diagnosed with autism at the age of 3.
Through the talking heads of both Ron and Cornelia (his parents), as well as his brother Walter, we learn about the fear and devastation they all experienced as Owen became more withdrawn and unable to socialise.
At around the age of 7, an unusual discovery is made. Owen has an affinity for Disney movies. In fact, it’s such an affinity that he’s memorised the entire script for several films! It’s then, through the voices of Disney, that Owen is able to adapt to the world around him.
While the film does occasionally divert into over-the-top melodrama, it’s hard not to get caught up in Owen’s journey to find his place in the world. With a variety of Disney characters peppering the story, it’s a subtle reminder that, for many of us, these characters were an important part of our childhoods. Just because we’ve grown up doesn’t mean these characters are any less powerful than when we first experienced them.
But the film isn’t all depressing and introspective as Williams always manages to find the humour, with an especially memorable reference to Disney themed “Adult Literature!”
Disney fan or not, Owen’s inspirational journey is an absolutely must see and is a great reminder that our childhood heroes don’t have to remain behind as we join the adult world.