Life, Animated: NZFF Review
If Disney Pixar's latest Finding Dory is a parable about living with disability, Life, Animated is a tale of how Disney helped one family and their son rise above their debilitating problem.
Director Roger Ross Williams has already snagged a Sundance directing prize for the doco about Owen Suskind and it's not hard to see why.
Meshing animation, Disney favourites and fly-on-the-wall aesthetics, it's the tale of 23 year old Owen Suskind who at 3 years old stopping talking and being able to form sentences, muttering only gibberish to his family and leaving them in heartbreak.
Diagnosed with regressive autism, Owen's parents Ron and Cornelia despaired as they lived in a world which didn't have the insights we do today and struggled to find a way to connect back to the son who early footage shows was just a normal kid.
But Owen's way back to the world and his parents' way to meet him was through a chance discovery of what Disney's animated films had given him... and it's here that a Life, Animated review veers too closely into spoilers to deprive you of some of the uplifting moments and lows that ensue.
What Ross Williams has done has helped shed light on a moving story of both those living with autism and those around them - but without sugar coating any of it. Based on father Ron's book, we see the pain of the parents (the line where his father decries the fact that his son simply disappeared is heartbreaking of itself), the anguish of the brother who will have to assume the mantle of protector and we witness the joie de vivre of Owen as he negotiates his life and touches of TV series The Undateables.
Meshing family footage and candid honesty as well as some beautiful animation from Mathieu Betard and Olivier Lescot, Life Animated is nothing short of heartwarming but never manipulative.
Providing a glimpse into the world of autism from Owen the subject itself, this is a coming of age story that revels for the most part in restraint. There can be no denial the final scenes leave you empowered (as a moment from the Lion King rams home the point), but it's the wonder of Owen and the simplicity of Ross Williams' construction of the piece that make you marvel.
If Ron Suskind's book Life Animated is the number 1 special needs biography, it's fair to say that this feel-good piece will bring the subject to a wider audience and will succeed in sending crowds off into the cold nights with a warm undeniable glow.