AN EMPIRE OF WORDS

Life, Animated (2016)

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People of my generation have generally grown up watching Disney’s animated features unfold on screen as one of their first experiences of films and the cinema. There was something about Disney films that just connected with our youths as we grew up around them.

The animated features were also a big part of Owen Suskind’s life and his growth into a young adult, but in a very different way. Owen was diagnosed with autism at the very young age of three, which is told in a way that juxtaposes the confident and intelligent young adult that was first shown on the screen.

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As the film was a documentary, it was always going to have that battle in regards to what direction to take. Do they take the route of discussing autism and it’s effects, or do they take the route of showing the quite remarkable story of Owen Suskind and his development.

Over the course of about 90 minutes, Roger Ross Williams opted for the latter of the options and showed the story of Owen Suskind and his ability to communicate with others through the medium of Disney. Owen’s father Ron starts to talk to him through a puppet of Iago, and this scene is beautifully animated which exemplifies Owen’s newfound ability. Amazingly Owen begins to talk back to Iago, which acts as a huge breakthrough for Owen and the Suskind family.

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In the opening segments, we see Owen as a confident and high functioning young adult as he nears his graduation, which also means he will be moving out to live by himself soon. Ron and Cornelia Suskind kindly invite us into their cherished memories of Owen, as we see him playing with his brother and father quite gleefully. Then immediately, this happiness is shunted out by the juxtaposing image of Owen exhibiting autistic traits, a far cry from the joyful young boy we saw seconds earlier.

What made Life, Animated an experience in film was not the story, but how they accompanied that story with beautifully crafted animation and with a soft use of soundtrack to really underline the story. As I mentioned, this story could have gone one of two ways, but with the route they have taken, it became joyous to watch.

In between the exquisite animation and comforting soundtrack, Ron Suskind fills us in what was so remarkable about Owen’s childhood and what made him blossom into the confident young adult he is today and that was down to Disney.

With the help of Ron, Cornelia and Walter Suskind, Roger Ross Williams kindly retells the difficulties and joys of growing up with Owen. It’s an intriguing look into how autism can affect individuals in a family, but also for future especially as Walter comes to terms with him being Owen’s only support going into the future.

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Life, Animated as I said was a really interesting watch as I was unaware that autistic people had that ability to recognise with the world through the medium of Disney, but also through a look at Owen’s life it relayed some interesting information regarding autism and it’s affect on children and to some extent, families too.

Roger Ross Williams managed to fill the 92-minute film with warmth through the Suskind’s care and cherishment of Owen as he enters a new chapter in his life. Through the investment in Owen’s story, the time does melt away as there is a certain joy and happiness throughout Life, Animated and it’s unsurprising that is has been nominated for an Oscar in it’s respective category. Life, Animated is a real triumph and joyous film, but I suspect Life, Animated was a bid to raise awareness for autism more than anything, whilst telling the heart-warming story of Owen.

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Author: Nathan Harris

Currently studying Film & Television studies and Media Writing at Derby University. Hopefully wanting to become a film critic/journalist.

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