Life, Animated




From 3 to 23, the life of an autistic child is told in a documentary based on his father's book.

Life, Animated


The first half of this film is very impressive but thereafter I found myself less happy with it. The reason is twofold since, in addition to criticising the way in which it was presented in its later stages, I found myself also worried over the question of whether or not what we were being shown was always appropriate.


But let us start with the extremely involving material that makes up the greater part of the film's first hour. Life, Animated is a documentary which, by making use of home movies is able to cover a period of some twenty years. It begins in recent times as it tells the story of Owen Suskind, one of two sons of the journalist Ron Suskind who wrote for the Wall Street Journal. At the age of three Owen became ill with what proved to be a form of autism. His parents were told that he might never be able to talk intelligibly again, but this film made by Roger Ross Williams tells Owen's story in retrospect. This helps to achieve a positive slant from the beginning since the story is told not only by Owen's father and mother but by Owen himself. Consequently, just how much he would achieve is apparent from the outset.


A huge fan of Disney films which he would watch on videos, young Owen responded to the dialogue he heard in them and thus these movies came to play a key role in his refutation of the doctor's low hopes. It's a situation that justifies the inclusion of clips from many Disney movies and there's also an apt use early on of new animation footage to illustrate Owen's story. But, as the latter footage mainly in black and white initially gives way to colour, both that and the Disney extracts (including a veritable montage at the end) come to seem over-indulged. As for the moral issue, if Owen (as one supposes) will watch this film, one wonders about sequences which, rather vague in detail, touch on his break-up with a girlfriend and his consequent emotional distress. Ahead of that, one scene shows his older brother, Walt, bringing up the subject of Owen's sexual needs and, even more disturbingly, there is an episode in which Walt frankly discusses the burden on himself should he need to become Owen's carer in the event of the deaths of both parents.


There is much in Life, Animated to admire and one does not worry about what is akin to Disney product placement because it is truly part of the story. In contrast to that I do question in the second half both the excessive emphasis on film extracts and the validity of including the very personal scenes to which I have eluded.




Featuring  Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind, Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Alan Rosenblatt.


Dir Roger Ross Williams, Pro Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman, Screenplay Ron Suskind, based on his book, Ph Thomas Bergmann, Ed David Teague, Music Todd Griffin and Dylan Stark, Animation Mathieu Betard and Magali Garnier.

A&E Indie Films/Motto Pictures/Roger Ross Williams Productions-Dogwoof.
89 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 9 December 2016. Cert. PG.