Do you like Disney? Of course you do. Not as much as this guy.
Diagnosed with autism early in life, Owen Suskind’s parents weren’t sure when or how they would be able to communicate again. At a tender age, Owen began to watch Disney movies, a stalwart of innumerable childhoods and a reprieve for many, no less so than he and his family. One day, Owen suddenly began to talk again. Having absorbed the dialogue from Disney movies, he could relate it back to his mother, father and brother who dutifully played the roles of Jafar and Baloo, along with a host of other now very practiced and hilariously adept impressions.
Communicating with his family and making sense of the world through The Lion King, Dumbo, Bambi and so many other favourites, Owen’s story is candidly and joyously told in a heartfelt display of fondness for everything Disney and the transcendent power films can and do hold for so many people. Owen’s father describing his interactions with his infant son through a puppet Iago after he first learned of the films’ new-found importance is singularly powerful, while Owen’s loving brother, incidentally named Walt, proffers some of the most kindly, telling commentary on the family’s experiences.
Now an adult, the documentary follows Owen as he continues to make sense of the world through Disney, as well as his interactions in assisted-living with his friends and girlfriend, the film not shying away from painting an affectionate portrait of the relationship between two of its subjects, sharing similar challenges, markedly in the absence of others, an addition to a mainstream picture as uncommon as it is welcomely discerning.
Depicting in equal measure Owen’s Disney journey, including a couple of very amusing cameos, and his and his family’s particular circumstances, Life, Animated is nicely complemented by an original, stylistically thrilling animation running through the whole film. A much more visceral interpretation of Owen’s cognizance, it ebulliently captures the love for Disney and cinema more generally evidently palpable in Owen and his family.
Alongside the cartoon and the accompanying elucidation, the Suskinds’ story will resonate with anyone who’s shared a similar experience, or for that matter, ever been entranced by one of Disney’s marvellous creations.
Life, Animated screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday 19 June – for more information head to the Festival website