Back in 2014, I happened to see Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ron Suskind being interviewed on some program, talking about his then-new book, Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. He, his wife Cornelia, and their older son Walter were dealing with Ron and Cornelia’s younger son Owen’s autism. Much less was known about the disability in 1993, when Owen was first diagnosed, than now.
Ron Suskind’s book discusses the struggle, and the breakthrough, when he and his wife realized that Owen was attempting to communicate with them through Disney dialogue. The movie takes on that same path, but it can illustrate the desire of Peter Pan not to want to grow up, or the fear of Bambi, or being an outcast like Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Owen starts a Disney movie club with others with disabilities and developed relationships with a couple of Disney voice actors. He also travels abroad to explain his condition, and I was intrigued by how little his writer/father gave him.
The trailer suggested more of a Disney happy ending, but the movie delves into what happens when Owen is ready is getting ready to live semi-autonomously. Sometimes the Disney dialogue is insufficient, as when brother Walter tries to explain the birds and the bees to Owen.
What makes this movie, though, is the animation, not by Disney, but by Mac Guff, a French visual effects company, which takes a fantasy of Disney sidekicks and brings it to life.
One of the few negative reviews notes: “It never addresses Disney’s wholly manufactured stranglehold on turning adolescent desire into a consumerist impulse.” True enough, and rather beside the point to a family looking for a way into their child’s mind.
Life, Animated was definitely worth your 90 minutes.