Life, animated DVD Review

The word ‘autism’ implies distance. It immediately conjures up images or ideas of children or young adults who are not able to connect with the world around them, people detached from their own families. Rightly or wrongly, it is the portrait of the disorder painted for the public.

With Life, animated Roger Ross Williams has chosen a different direction. He instead follows the life and development of one sufferer, Owen Suskind, whose father wrote the book on which the film is based. Owen’s autism set in when he was three years old, he ceased communicating with his family and immersed himself in the world of Disney animated movies.


This precipitates his way back into the real world. After many years of non-communication his parents have a eureka moment, discovering that Owen has memorised every line of dialogue from every Disney film, they begin to communicate with him through Disney and reconnect with their son.

The film is something of a fly on the wall, observing Owen and the dynamics of his relationships with his mother, father and brother Walt. Williams taps into the emotions, both positive and negative, experienced by each of these players as Owen’s journey to independence nears its completion. By being unnoticed, Ross Williams accesses the most intimate moments and allows the family the space and time to admit their fears and hopes.


One of the most deeply personal moments of the film sees Owen describe his bullying by kids at his school and how that lead him to believe he would always be a sidekick, labelling himself ‘protector of sidekicks’. This triggers a creative outlet both for Owen and the film documenting him. Owen writes a story starring himself and many of the sidekicks from the Disney animated movies, helping him to feel safer in hard times. For Ross Williams, it allows the film to enter one of its many animated phases, its most gorgeous, as the story plays out on-screen.

These scenes build the personal relationship which the viewer shares with the Suskinds. They are affecting and deeply emotional. However this connection creates an issue with the overall balance of the film. Aside from their son’s medical condition, the film rarely touches on any of the other problems suffered by the Suskinds during the period. The treatment and facilities they purchase for their son can only be incredibly expensive and would perhaps have caused them financial hardship at times, particularly in the early years. The relationship between the other members of the family must have occasionally been fraught with nerves and tensions, yet none of this is revealed. Everything is just a little too, Disney.


Without a doubt Owen benefitted from his father becoming a very successful journalist and author, he won a Pulitzer in 1995. This certainly can’t be held against him but it does beg the question, what happens to autistic children not born to families of means? It is a difficult question to ask and is possibly a topic more important to document but Life, animated deals with the personal story of Owen Suskind and that deserves recognition.

Though the technique of using personal passions to communicate with autism sufferers isn’t something unique to him, Owen’s love of Disney creates a wonderful and evocative tableau of image and story to which we can all relate. Roger Ross Williams opens up a whole new world, the mind of Owen Suskind.


Life, animated is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 30th January courtesy of Dogwoof

About The Author

Jonathan went back to university to study Film Journalism in Glasgow in 2012 and hasn't looked back since. Writing for the Edinburgh Internation Film Festival, The Birmingham Review, The Electrolyte Magazine as well as Front Row Reviews he enjoys working across media and if not lambasting folk about politics it's film on his agenda. Working in The Electric Cinema in Birmingham has allowed him to come closer to the medium he loves, his favourite filmmaker is Wong Kar-Wai.

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