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With: Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Roger Ross Williams
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, and language including a suggestive reference
Running Time: 89
Date: 07/15/2016

Life, Animated (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Toon Landing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

At age three, Owen Suskind suddenly stopped speaking and retreated into himself. His parents did not know how to reach him, but, miraculously, after obsessively devouring piles of Disney animated features, the autistic Owen began using the dialogue and themes from the movies to communicate. His father, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, wrote a book about the experience, and now Oscar-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams (Best Documentary Short, Music by Prudence) has brought the story to the screen.

In the film, Owen is in his twenties, deals with the pressures and pleasures of having a girlfriend, and prepares to move into his own apartment. The movie tenderly and empathically looks back on Owen's story, interviewing Owen and sitting in on his Disney club meetings and therapy sessions. It also peeks at Owen's notebooks, which revealingly detail various Disney sidekicks (hinting that Owen might have felt he was unworthy of being a leading man in his own life), and provides some new animated sequences to underline the movie's themes.

Life, Animated is tremendously moving, but it also digs subtly and profoundly into the primal connection between Disney films and autism, the lessons and themes there, and how they appeal to the emotional sides of humans. At the same time, it sheds light on the condition of being autistic, making it seem less frightening or demonized. In short, this is an essential documentary, and gentle enough to show to middle-school kids.

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