It’s no secret that 2016 has been kind of a sucky year for movies, particularly blockbusters. Sure there have been some exceptions but for the most part they have been meh to very disappointing. Such is not the case for indie films! I have even found 3 documentaries that I have loved already this year and one of those is a little gem called Life, Animated. All of you animation addicts need to see it!!!
Life, Animated is a documentary made by Roger Ross Williams, based on a memoir by Ron Suskind. It chronicles the story of Ron’s son Owen who is diagnosed with severe autism at the age of 3. We are introduced to Owen at the age of 23 but there is a great deal of home footage that helps give you an idea of Owen as a little boy.
You see Owen connects to the world through animated films, particularly Disney animated films. And when I say connects I mean it quite literally. There is a heartbreaking section where Owen’s parents talk about Owen not being able to speak anything but gibberish for 4 years. Can you imagine not being able to talk to your son for 4 years? Then one day Ron has a breakthrough using an Iago puppet from Aladdin. I was bawling.
In another instance Owen comes up to his Mother after not speaking for years and says “Walter doesn’t want to grow up like Mowgli and Peter Pan”. They are of course stunned by this and it starts them on a journey of communicating to their son through Disney. He literally has every line from every Disney film memorized!
It is not an easy road working with Owen but the movie doesn’t do the “look how perfect and inspirational I am”. This feels like a real family (because it is a real family) and they acknowledge challenges and blessings in just the right way. I particularly liked his brother who ironically is named Walt! He is honest about his responsibilities in caring for his brother and what that is like. The Dad, Ron, is also vulnerable and strong and lovely.
This is not an ‘I am Sam’ type of film where being a special needs person is better or made to inspire us able bodied folks. No, this is just about one family, one person and how animation allowed him to communicate with the world.
This is perhaps personified most in a recurring animated segment based on a story Owen writes as a child. It’s called the Legend of the Lost Sidekicks. These sections almost reminded me of something Tomm Moore would draw. They were peaceful and gave such insight into the way Owen thinks about life.
Particularly with the current election it is easy to feel discouraged and frustrated, so I am grateful for movies like Life, Animated. They help me to understand others better and remind me that good will always outweigh the bad. Sometimes the fandom cultures of the internet can make you forget how special this art we call movies is. Owen’s story reminded of that. It reminded me to get more joy out of these crazy toons I watch all the time. It reminded me to be myself and notice the sidekicks more. It reminded me to be grateful for my voice, my words and my family. It was a great movie!
Overall Grade- A
Here is the trailer if you are interested