Life, Animated Review

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Unexpectedly locked into his own world at the age of three, Owen Suskind began communicating with his parents and older brother again after learning how to cope with the vicissitudes of life from the plotlines of classic Disney films.


Owen Suskind is a remarkable young man. At the age of three, he was diagnosed with a pervasive developmental disorder that plunged him into a form of autism that robbed him of the ability to communicate. Through his love of classic Disney animation, however, he eventually learned enough about himself and how to negotiate the world to start expressing himself again. Apart from a minor setback after he was bullied at school, the 23 year-old has made great strides. He remains besotted with Disney (especially the sidekicks) and now lives in assisted accommodation, works in a cinema and gives keynote addresses at academic conferences in France.

But, as Roger Ross Williams reveals in this inspirational documentary, Owen owes much to a devoted supporting cast comprising his parents (Cornelia and Ron) and his older brother, who just happens to be called Walt. They have clearly recounted the story several times before (Ron is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose bestseller prompted the film) and Williams occasionally tugs too insistently on the heartstrings in its retelling. But, while the choice of movie that Owen watches after significant events sometimes seems calculated (Bambi after he leaves mom for his new digs and The Little Mermaid when his girlfriend dumps him), this affectionate profile is as sincere as it's intimate.

Williams is fortunate that Disney recognised the PR value of the enterprise, as editor David Teague is able to intercut clips from Owen's favourites to reflect his emotional state. But the contribution of French animators Mac Guff, whose line drawings help illuminate Owen's childhood and whose interpretation of his story, `The Land of the Lost Sidekicks', captures the connection between Owen and the inhabitants of his comfort realm with considerable poignancy and charm.

A touch twee at times, but the use of classic and original animation is admirable, while Owen emerges as the king of sidekicks.