Netflix UK film review: Life, Animated
Ivan Radford | On 09, Dec 2016
Director: Roger Ross Williams
Cast: Owen Suskind
Watch Life, Animated online in the UK: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
When Owen Suskind was three years old, he suddenly stopped talking. Diagnosed with autism, it was “like he’d been kidnapped”, say his parents. But then they discovered something remarkable: Owen had learned all of the Disney movies they owned on VHS off by heart.
Disney has always been a magical force in children’s lives, but for this family, they became a lifeline: the Suskinds began to communicate with Owen through Disney films, puppets and drawings. Owen used the end credits of the films to learn to read. He created his own animated story to express his emotions. And, after growing up, he started a Disney club at school, so he could have friends.
Director Roger Ross Williams captures the family’s struggle to live with autism with an astonishing sensitivity; we quietly observe Owen (a natural performer for the camera, always doing voices and reciting quotes to himself) start dating Emily, an autistic girl, but never feel like we’re intruding. Contributions from his parents and his brother, Walter, meanwhile, move from despair to hope for his future as an independent adult.
People with autism aren’t anti-social, explains Owen. They want to be social, but find it more difficult. Williams conveys that barrier through garbled audio and dazzling hand-drawn illustrations. The result is a powerful insight into the life of someone with autism, a heartwarming study of education and cognitive development, and an inspiring tribute to the magic of the movies. In an age where the words “the spectrum” is bandied about casually by members of the public, this is a must-see documentary – and a moving tour de force of cinema. Disney couldn’t have made a better film themselves; this is one of the best movies of the year.
Life Animated is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.