Life, Animated is a documentary based on the life of Owen Suskind, a proud autistic man with a passion for all things Disney. Owen’s sheer honesty and capacity for love is what makes the movie so endearing, and is exactly what is so endearing about the world of Disney itself. Life, Animated tells Owen’s life story (so far—he’s only 23 years old!), beginning when he was a toddler. Owen had always been a normal, happy child, shown sword fighting with his father using sticks in the backyard. Until, with no warning, Owen went completely silent at age three. The sounds he did make were suddenly entirely unintelligible, and his parents struggled with many doctors to find out what was going on with their beloved son. Owen was diagnosed with autism. For years, little Owen showed no improvement—he simply showed contentment when placed in front of a Disney movie with his family. One day, however, after Owen’s older brother’s (Walter Suskind’s) birthday party had come to an end, and Walt seemed pretty sad, Owen said to his parents–ever-so-matter of factly–“Walt doesn’t want to grow up, like Mowgli and Peter Pan.” I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this is an incredibly impressive and complex connection for a young child to make, especially after four years of silence.
Life, Animated is the story of how that complex connection came to be, and how it symbolized the growth Owen was capable of. It seems that, through Disney movies, Owen was able to learn how to relate to the people around him, even though his disability made it so much harder for him. This connection to Disney flourished into a lifelong passion, and the means for Owen to live the beautiful, productive, healthy life he has now. This is in addition, of course, to the impressive support team that surrounds Owen—his parents and his brother. The amount of love and devotion they have for Owen is touching, to say the very least.
Owen is a Disney fanatic in the truest sense of the word. And, to be honest, I am kind of an Owen fanatic after seeing Life, Animated… And it’s for the same reasons that I love Disney movies: Owen is unequivocally honest, brave, and has the biggest heart I could possibly imagine. Owen is a hero. Life, Animated shows us how Owen deals with everyday challenges, like how to speak in front of a crowd, and even how to deal with a painful break up. He inspires me to be as good of a person as I can be, because that is all he does every day: try to be a good person. Disney movies help him do that, and it works. He is amazing.
Life, Animated promotes a wonderful and inspiring message: “Remember who you are;” stay true to yourself and do what brings you happiness. Owen’s sense of life is communicated in every scene, and gives viewers a reason to think, “This world is a beautiful place where amazing things happen. And, heck, I can do amazing things!”
Life, Animated opens at the Landmark Theater on Friday in Beverly Hills. If you are able, go see it. It will make you laugh and cry at the same time, and Owen will let you in on a little piece of truth that everyone tends to forget: You are special, and you are important.