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“life, animated” movie review
As any child can tell you, Disney is synonymous with magic.
This documentary proves that without a doubt, as it tells the story of Owen Suskind, who was diagnosed with autism at age three and who found a way to communicate and cope by watching Disney movies.
Based on the book by Owen’s dad, Ron — a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter for the Wall Street Journal — this poignant movie is fascinating.
When Owen was three, he suddenly stopped speaking and his motor skills began to deteriorate. This was back in the early ’90s and an autism diagnosis came with little hope of ever living independently.
Yet, after watching The Little Mermaid one day, Owen started saying words that sounded like gibberish. When his parents finally understood he was repeating Ursula’s “Just your voice,” a whole new world — to quote Aladdin — opened up for the entire family.
They realized that Owen was actually able to make sense of real life through these animated classics. He memorized every single Disney movie, and often spoke in dialogue to express what he was experiencing.
Thanks to Disney and the unconditional love and support from his parents and brother (who, appropriately, is named Walter), Owen was able to reach unexpected developmental milestones, learning to read, write and speak. He even created his own story, “The Land of the Lost Sidekicks,” which is moving in what it reveals about Owen’s self-analysis of his own place in the world. “I am the protector of sidekicks,” he says. “No sidekicks get left behind.”
He starts a movie club, falls in love — an event that touches upon the one aspect of life Disney doesn’t address: sex — and even moves into his own apartment in an assisted-living complex, where the first thing he unpacks is, of course, his collection of Disney movies on VHS. When he watches Bambi on his first night alone there, it’s obvious that he misses his own mom and needs the reassurance that he will survive without her.
There’s no sugarcoating here, and Owen’s parents still get teary every time they talk about him. His brother admits that the idea of taking care of him when their parents are gone is overwhelming and keeps him up at night.
Life, Animated shares the richness and emotional depth of the Disney movies with which Owen is obsessed. The villain in this one is autism, which robbed Owen of a “normal” life and threatened to take him down. But, with the help of his faithful and loving sidekicks, he was able to reach greater heights than any of them could have expected. And, hopefully, like the hero in every Disney movie, Owen will, ultimately, live happily ever after.