Having been in the Disney fan community for a while and known friends on the autism spectrum, it's always been interesting to hear stories about how the Disney animated classics — something that many of us watch as kids — can mean a great deal more to those who can't communicate in the same way that others do. That's exactly what the new documentary Life, Animated is all about.
The film, which opens in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, tells the story of Owen Suskind — an autistic man who has loved Disney films his whole life. More than just finding comfort in them, his family soon learned that Owen was able to relate to and express himself through the films. This included reciting dialogue from the, as well as applying lessons from movies to his everyday life.
Life, Animated is directed by Roger Ross Williams and was inspired by the book of the same name written by Owen's father, Ron Suskind. When I looked up Williams on IMDb, I noticed he had directed several episodes of CBS's Undercover Boss (he also won an Oscar for directing the short documentary film "Music by Prudence"). That should be a clue that he knows how to tell an emotional and heartwarming story even if it is unscripted.
Told partially in traditional documentary style (talking head interviews and as-it-happens footage), the film also includes several clips from Disney classics as well as original animations created for the film. Both of these elements help to add another layer to the film that helps it to connect with us in the same way those other movies connect with Owen. As a result, viewers of any age can appreciate this PG-rated film.
There's hardly a moment in Life, Animated that you won't feel heartbroken, intrigued, inspired, or uplifted. In fact, I spent all 90 minutes of the film in awe of just how beautiful it was. For every crushing tale that the film explores in its first act (and some other sad stories along the way), there are others that will make you want to stand up and cheer — especially when some familiar Disney faces make appearances.
Having heard these types of stories in the past doesn't hold a candle to seeing it for yourself. For that reason, I found Life, Animated to be absolutely fascinating. Whether you're a Disney fan, documentary enthusiast, know someone affected by autism, or just need a good cry, I highly recommend this triumph of a film.
Life, Animated opens July 1st in select theatres. For information on when it will come to your city, visit lifeanimateddoc.com.