Life, Animated

Film, Documentaries
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)
Life, Animated

An inspirational documentary about a young autistic man who views the world through the lens of his obsession with Disney cartoons

At age seven, Owen Suskind was essentially non-verbal – living with such crippling autism that he could only express himself in squeaks and babbling. Then salvation arrived from an unlikely source: Disney cartoons.

Owen’s all-encompassing Disney obsession gave him a framework not just for understanding the world but for communicating with his own family. This sweet, sympathetic documentary – based in part on a book by Owen’s dad, Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist – follows Owen, now 23, as he prepares to graduate from high school and move out of the family home. He’s heading off, like Simba and Dumbo, to find his own place in the world.

Director Roger Ross Williams is granted unrestricted access to Owen and his family (Ron, his wife Cornelia and their older son Walt) and his unflinching interviews with all four of them form the heart of the film. There are also, as the title implies, a handful of animated sequences, inspired by Owen’s own stories set in the imaginary Land of Lost Sidekicks where the supporting characters from Disney movies live in fear of the evil Lord Fuzzbutch – and only Owen can save them.

The film’s depiction of autism is honest and unsentimental (though you do wonder about the kids who don’t have the family and financial support Owen’s been blessed with). But where ‘Life, Animated’ gets really fascinating is in exploring Owen’s bone-deep connection with the cartoons. This is fandom taken to an extreme, but it’s still reflective of the way many of us form attachments to created worlds: Owen’s sense of comfort, of wanting to exist inside a fake universe, is highly relatable in this escapist age. Williams celebrates the unpredictable impact of fiction and fantasy; you simply never know what’s going to change someone’s life. But he also takes a few affectionate potshots at the limitations of Disney’s world: how, for instance, is Owen ever going to learn about sex?

Like those Disney cartoons, ‘Life, Animated’ can be manipulative: an effort to bolt on an upbeat sports-movie ending at a French autism conference feels forced. But overall this is a terrifically watchable, heartfelt documentary and a valuable glimpse into a singular life.

By: Tom Huddleston

Posted:

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday December 9 2016
Duration: 89 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Average User Rating

4.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|4
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tastemaker

A heartwarming insight into the Suskind's ongoing journey understanding autism and reaching their son through the over exaggerated characters of Disney will have you wanting to go home and dust off the old Disney dvds. It rawly captures the families continuing struggles as Owen steps into adulthood and experiences heartache of adult relationships and like the standard Disney plot line, they aren't looking for a happy every after but for Owen to have an independent fulfilling life. Roger Ross Williams uses excellent camera techniques to enter Owen's world! Put it on your list especially if you know anyone with autism and step back into your childhood reliving key lines from your Disney favourites.

Tastemaker

I read somewhere something like – ‘The best Disney film not done by Disney’ – and I think this says it all.

Warm and moving documentary that should be seen by everyone.

tastemaker

An authentic and moving documentary film, told primarily through the perspectives of Owen Suskind and his father, mother and brother about Owen's autism.

When Owen’s father describes him as ‘disappearing’ suddenly at the age of three and the doctors being unable to help it really upset me - as did tales of his hidden bullying by classmates growing up.

That said, it makes it all the more satisfying to watch his resurgence against the odds and coming back into the world through the storytelling of Disney movies. The film veers but thankfully never slips into sentimentality and maintains a clear and prominent message about hope throughout.

The animation used to fill I the gaps of Owen’s story are well crafted and employed at the right times.


Life, Animated introduces us to Owen Suskind, a young man who used his love of Disney animated films as a doorway into a world that appeared closed to him as a child. This wonderful documentary is informative, educating its audience about how a diagnosis of autism impacts on the Suskind family. The honesty and bravery of Owen grants the viewer access to the way an autistic child makes sense of the world.  The film is also entertaining, funny and life-affirming. It is a real honour and pleasure to spend time with Owen Suskind and his family. We feel all the more richer for being allowed in.