The human story told in the documentary “Life, Animated” has ample inspirational value but on the other hand there’s something deeply uncomfortable about the whole enterprise.
The story concerns a young autistic man named Owen Suskind, whose obsessive love for Disney movies helped him develop communication skills.
Documentarian Roger Ross Williams follows Owen as he prepares to move out on his own for the first time, and looks back at the remarkable role everything from “Peter Pan” to “The Lion King” played in helping him get to that point.
You can’t help but admire Owen and to be moved by his journey, as he overcomes considerable obstacles to forge his own path in life. His family, consisting of Pulitzer Prize-winning father Ron, mother Cornelia and older brother Walt, offers heartfelt testimony to the strength of Owen’s spirit and there’s a real note of poignancy as the other Suskind’s watch their son and brother set off into the world.
Williams never adequately answers the most fundamental question, though: Why? As in, what about Owen’s story is so fundamentally compelling from a dramatic standpoint that it demands to be told over similar narratives of other autistic individuals who have achieved the successes.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the movie exists at least in part to polish Disney’s image. Too often, it plays like propaganda, like the real-life cousin of the faux fairytales the company has marketed to billions and billions in profits.