Milwaukee Film Festival 2016: Life, Animated
By Andrea Thompson
Some movies have an irresistible pull. “Life, Animated” certainly does, and not just because of its feel-good message. It manages to remain sincere without being saccharine, and hopeful without going Hallmark. It's a hard balancing act for a movie to pull off, let alone a documentary about such a serious subject. The film is about a young man named Owen Suskind, who is autistic. At one point, his parents Ron and Cornelia were told that Owen may never be able to communicate, either with them or the rest of the world. However, they discovered a way to bridge the gulf between their son and them: his love of Disney movies. Turns out, Owen was able to make sense of the world, and even learn to read, by using characters and dialogue from his favorite films. “Life, Animated” follows the painstaking process from Owen's deterioration and diagnosis at age 3 to the present, where he has become a 23-year-old man with an apartment and a job at a movie theater. The film may idealize Owen a bit, but its biggest problem is its refusal to address the issue of class. More specifically, it does not discuss how Ron Suskind's (who wrote the book the movie is based on) career as a high-powered journalist has enabled Owen to make as much progress as he has, not to mention meet people like Gilbert Gottfried and speak at a conference about autism in France. But mostly, what emerges is a touching tribute to the power of film and stories and how they give us hope even as Owen and his family know his life will always be somewhat of a struggle.