You don’t realize how much of real life is squeezed into a Disney animated film. Life, Animated is a new documentary out by Roger Ross Williams about Owen Suskind a young man with Autism obsessed with Disney animated classics. Throughout the film Suskind and his father quotes lines from the movies that directly relate or are pertinent to Owen’s life: the fears, the highs, the lows. Even Owen himself sees parallels, how things always look worse before they get better, how the bad guy is all part of the hero’s journey, the necessary role of the sidekick. Owen’s life could be a Disney classic.
For someone who needs the help of social cues, these movies become tools for Owen to navigate his life.
As a 3-year-old Owen suddenly lost speech and retreated into a world of his own. A room without doors. His parents with the help of therapists and teacher searched for inroads, but ran into roadblocks. UNTIL one day, once upon a time, they discovered Owen repeating some lines from The Little Mermaid, appropriately the scene where Ariel makes a bargain with the Sea Witch, her voice for human legs. Who knew Disney was the cure! Could unravel the mystery inside Owen’s mind!
Stories such as Peter Pan, afraid to grow up, and the coming-of-age story of Lion King, and Pinocchio about becoming a “real” boy all feed into Owen’s own narrative. He’d stop and rewind and live through certain scenes before embarking on some tough choices or life benchmarks—such as moving out of the house, graduating high school: stuff that send all of us through emotional hiccups.
Even the romantic parts of Aladdin and Snow White pave the way for Owen to work through his first real boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is another example—his deformity of hunchback doesn’t go away, but he learns to live with it and amongst the barbaric village people who don’t know how to accept him. In fact reviewing the list of Disney films, with a few exceptions, are mostly about accepting the outsider, how to be a friend.
Life, Animated is truly inspiring, giving hope to individuals who struggle or work alongside of those who struggle with Autism.