Review: Life, Animated, B
Rated PG, 91 minutes
The captivating, uplifting new documentary "Life, Animated" is a charming story of heroes, sidekicks, and autism, viewed through the lens of Owen Suskind, an autistic man who's had his share of challenges. The inspirational story of Owen, who was unable to speak as a child until he and his family discovered a unique way to communicate by immersing themselves in the world of classic Disney animated films such as "The Lion King," "Aladdin" and "Pinocchio." This emotional coming-of-age story follows Owen as he graduates to adulthood and takes his first steps toward independence. Directed by Oscar-winning short film and documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams ("Music by Prudence," "God Loves Uganda") based on the book of the same name and story by Owen's Dad Ron Suskind, who also appears in the film. The first section deals with Owen's childhood and as he discovers Disney films, with the second half exploring Owen's transition to independence and adulthood as he moves into an apartment on his own not to mention dating. Williams intersperses the first act with family footage, interviews and original drawings and animation to tell Owen's story, though the real charmer is Owen himself, who has watched Disney classics over and over he has memorized the whole movie, every line of dialogue. This helps him to communicate and eventually interact with others, though as he grows into an adult, his parents realize the need for independence, which is fascinating and even humorous on its own. Owen experiences love, loss (his girlfriend breaks up with him) and challenges of being on your own, such as a real job and paying bills. His older brother is happy but understandably worried for him and still looks out for him, and tries to educate him on relationships and sex (Do you know how that works, he asks Owen. Yea, I've seen it I know, he replies), given that Disney films are lacking in that area. On that note, Williams tries to underscore the point that Owen's transition to the real world is different than the fun Disney provides, and there's a time for grown-up things. Still, without being an advertisement for Disney - which in some ways it probably is - there's fun in seeing the Disney clips, and a special appearance from "Aladdin's" Iago himself, Gilbert Gottfried, in person. Some of "Life, Animated" lacks an emotional pull, especially as it gets caught up in the day-to-day details of Owen's independence, but then maybe that's the point. The victories for Owen may seem small to us, but they're huge for him. To quote Iago, Owen is, "on a scale of 1 to 10, an eleven!"