|'Whilst cinema may seem to some a pastime, a deeply cathartic experience, it is also one which breeds education and empathy. Life, Animated is that process writ large.'|
Based on the book by Ron Suskind (Life, Animated: A Story Of Sidekicks, Heroes And Autism), Life, Animated is a sweet Documentary that tells an interesting story, without ever really getting under the skin of its wider subject.
Owen Suskind, one of Richard's two sons, is diagnosed with autism after he stops speaking to his parents at age three. What emerges after this, however, is that Owen has been learning to communicate via the medium of Disney films. From repeating lines within the films to using their messages to interpret real life, Owen learns to relate to what's going on in the real world via the sugar-coated tales of Disney.
Whilst Owen's story is told well, director Roger Ross Williams frustratingly stops the tale just as it promised to achieve wider relevance. Owen's method of relating to the world - essentially through his passion - is becoming a way to study autism and to communicate with autism sufferers. Life, Animated needed more about this. The Suskinds are lucky in that they appear a fairly well off, first world-dwelling family, able to afford a level of comfort and support for Owen. What about all of those families living with autism who can't afford such things? The film could have had a message for them and instead it feels more of a footnote.
Not that that should belittle the experience of the Suskinds and the achievements of Owen, and Williams does find some larger themes. The fact that Owen is 'using these movies to make sense of the world', as Owen's father puts it, will not be lost on film fans. Don't we all. Whilst cinema may seem to some a pastime, a deeply cathartic experience, it is also one which breeds education and empathy. Life, Animated is that process writ large.
The new animation used throughout the film to tell Owen's self-written story is also beautiful and breaks up the live action and talking heads well. Some difficult questions are at least raised, such as whether Owen can have a physical relationship, if, again, not really examined with any depth.
The cinematic heritage of the film will be enough to interest even those with only a passing interest in film however, and small moments, such as when Owen meets Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of Aladdin's Iago, are as joyous as anything you'll see on a screen.
Life, Animated is released on UK DVD on Monday 30th January 2017.