Roger Ross Williams' Oscar-nominated documentary follows the true story of Owen Suskind. Suffering from severe autism, at the age of three he suddenly lost the ability to communicate with those around him. After many struggles, his family eventually made a breakthrough: they discover they are able to communicate with him via his love for animated films- particularly Disney. Eventually, Owen uses animation to help him understand the world and makes progress his family never thought possible.
Life, Animated is, quite simply, a beautiful film. From the very beginning, it's impossible not to be moved by the Suskinds' story. You don't need to be a parent to imagine how devastating it must have been for his family to, essentially, see Owen disappear in front of their eyes. Early home-video footage of the family, before his condition developed only underlines this. And so, when the "eureka" moment happens, and they realise that Disney may be the key. the audience too will feel elated.
By using dialogue and characters from Owen's favourite films, his parents discover a way of communicating with him. Over time he is able to use the films to help him understand the world around him.
Watching the story of Owen's transformation is incredibly moving. Although there are set-backs along the way (high school proving particularly tough) watching him go from that little scared child to a self-described "proud autistic man" is quite something to see.
Animation plays a big part, not only in the story, but also in the film itself. Not only in clips from the films that played such a part in the story, but also with some created specifically for this documentary by Macguff. Several events from Owen's past are recreated in animation, which is far more impactful than recounting them in narration alone. The animation style is simple but effective, with the child-like style giving it extra resonance.
In one particularly moving sequence, his love of Disney inspires him to create a story of his own- imagining himself as "protector of the sidekicks". Feeling that he did not feel like a hero, the teenage Owen found himself identifying more with the sidekicks. The story he wrote back then is brought to life through some beautiful animation, that is considerably more ambitious than the style used in the earlier re-creations.
This is an incredibly moving piece of film-making and- although there is sadness along the way- ultimately an incredibly uplifting one. This is a stunning testament to the power of cinema- and particularly animation- that proves that it can fulfill roles beyond mere entertainment. More than that. though, this a story of the power of family, love and hope. Not to be missed.