I’m catching Life, Animated far into its successful theatrical run, and after it was a hit on the festival circuit (placing sixth on the audience favourites list at Hot Docs, winning an award at the Sundance Film Festival for Roger Ross Williams’ direction and also being nominated for the prestigious Grand Jury Prize). I’m thankful to have seen the documentary, and I’m elated to pay the recommendation forward to anyone who hasn’t yet watched this heartwarming film.
Roger Ross Williams sets his scope on Owen Suskind, an autistic high school graduate who is nervous and excited about his new independence. Williams compliments Owen’s achievements by shuffling through his timeline, and showing audiences when Suskind started struggling and how he overcame obstacles using unconventional materials. Classic Walt Disney films issued a comprehensible perspective for Owen during extended periods of miscommunication, confusion, and fear evoked by bullying classmates. His parents and older brother take note of this, and use these movies to connect to their son.
Much of Life, Animated is summed up in its sentimental trailer, but it doesn’t service Owen’s incredible progress like a feature-length doc can. We watch Owen’s spirit restore itself through the stimulation of wide-eyed animations and relatable messages. Williams captures these moments of impulsive emotions through one-on-one sequences with Owen and individual films – his reactions are an exact replica of how heroes and sidekicks are drawn.
Williams also uses different animation styles to bring Owen’s imagination to life. Occasionally during Life, Animated, Owen talks about a book he’s been inspired to write. In the book, he’s the protector of all sidekicks. When danger appears, he’s there to save and support his friends. By identifying with these secondary characters, Suskind shows a chivalrous strength that may have been unnoticed otherwise. Williams, through flawless direction, matches this passion.
The final third of Life, Animated is looser because we’re watching Owen settle into a new lifestyle and deal with surprising challenges. However, the basis of Walt Disney’s work is still utilized as Owen and Williams work through the darkness.
Life, Animated speaks to all viewers to have ever been moved by art. It’s a direct study about how one’s creativity can actively involve admirers, and why it’s important to maintain an open imagination. The most fantastical elements can often be the most honest voices. Owen’s discovered this, and hopefully this wonderful documentary can help others as well.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie