Life, Animated: A Cinematic Insight into Autism

July 25, 2016

How Disney helped a family struggling with the challenges of Autism connect again 

Cinema can fill in the empty spaces of your life and your loneliness.
-Pedro Almodovar

 

I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.
-Walt Disney

 

Life, Animated is a documentary that follows the life of Owen Suskind, who was diagnosed with regressive autism at age three. He ceased talking. His parents feared he would never speak to them again.

Owen’s only interest seemed to be watching and re-watching Disney movies—something his parents allowed only because the doctors saw no harm in it.

But there was no way they could have realized these movies would be the key to getting Owen back.

 

Fixated interests are often a part of autism. Many children and adults with it have special areas of obsession or intense interest. For Owen, it was Disney.

His first words after having retreated from the world were dialogue from one of his favorite movies, The Little Mermaid. It didn’t take long for his parents to realize that Disney was the key to talking to their child again, even if it was only through memorized lines of Aladdin, Peter Pan, and the Lion King. By embracing Owen’s love of Disney movies, the Suskinds found a way to relate to Owen. And in return, Owen used the lessons found in his favorite films as a way to understand and interpret the people and the world around him.

 

Life, Animated is a testament not only to the power of cinema and stories but also to a family’s willingness to immerse themselves fully into their son’s world in order to win him back. The film uses a mix of footage from Owen’s life as well as clips from Disney movies and original animation to help better illustrate Owen’s interior dialogue. The movie ends with Owen’s graduation from college and his moving out on his own. He defines himself as a “proud autistic man, who is ready to meet a future that is bright and full of wonder.”

 

Sidekicks are Owen’s favorite characters. He relates mostly to them. Not because they are secondary or forgettable. But because he sees them as integral to helping the main character succeed. They exist in the story as touchstones for humor, wisdom, questions, and guidance.

He believes he himself is a sidekick.

 

And at the end of the movie, the audience is apt to agree.

 

 

Life, Animated is out in select theaters now. For more information, visit http://www.lifeanimateddoc.com/

 

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