Released from Dogwoof Entertainment on DVD this Monday 30th January, the Oscar-nominated Life, Animated tells the story of a young man, now aged 23, who is graduating after overcoming the debilitating condition of autism from the age of 3 years old; and how the watching of classic Disney movies helped him overcome his affliction and interact with the world especially his parents and family who feared they had lost him 'to the prison of autism'.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams, the film follows Owen Suskind who from the age of 3 was diagnosed with autism and how his parents Ron/Cordelia learnt that Owen through watching Disney films - Peter Pan, Aladdin, The Lion King - understood emotions of empathy, love and friendship; whilst his motor skills were slower he could process through the oeuvre of Disney pictures a place in society and how Owen fits into this real world.
The film is cautious to show Owen with his therapists and how wary they are about how his worldview may be clouded by the Disneyfication, how perhaps there may not always be a happy ending. This notion is put sharply into context when Owen and his girlfriend, Emily after a three-year relationship full of hugs and cutesy emotion is ended (somewhat abruptly) by Emily. This prompts Owen to ask, 'Why is the world full of pain and tragedy?' to his Mum on the phone, but this is part of Owen's learning that the world is not like the fantasy of Disney and can be cruel and big.
The film uses original animation sequences to show the formative years of Owen and his growing up in hand drawn storyboards. These sequences are endearing coupled with the story Owen wrote as a young boy called 'The Land of the Lost Sidekicks' incorporating the fact that following a brief episode of bullying at a special needs school, Owen felt less of a hero and more of a secondary character in his own narrative like a Baloo, Rafiki, Iago.
As a documentary film, this is the perfect format for such a delicate matter where certain viewers may still be ignorant of autism and its affects on behaviour, yet the film credibly attempts to show you the effects on the rest of the family including a poignant moment for Owen's brother Walt on the occasion of his 26th birthday, when he reflects on a time when his parents may not be around and he will have to protect Owen himself. The genuine warmth and affection between the family radiates off the screen throughout and is a real joy to witness.
The drawbacks on the film although minor is how does Owen interact with other films (although Casper is on his shelf) even alternative animation fare or is it just Disney films he watches regularly; no mention is made of the Pixar catalogue when a film like Toy Story about growing up and becoming responsible would ring true to Owen.
Delicately handled and beautifully edited Life, Animated is a vital portrait of a condition that the majority still are reluctant and ignorant to address.
Life, Animated is released on DVD on 30th January