Aged three, Owen Suskind was a normal child. Happy, fun-loving and talkative, his favourite activity was to watch animated Disney films with his adoring elder brother, Walt. When without warning, his speech and motor skills began to deteriorate, he was eventually diagnosed with a regressive form of autism – his family told that he may not speak, or communicate effectively, again. His parents never gave up, and after a small breakthrough, began speaking to him in the voices of the Disney characters he knew and considered his only friends. The results were incredible, and both heart-breaking and heart-warming to watch.

Through home recordings, animations and original footage, Roger Ross Williams tells the Suskind’s story in a sensitive and moving way. Life, Animated plays tribute to the therapists, teachers and family members that helped guide Owen every step of the way through his continued journey towards becoming fully independent.

Ron Suskind, Owen’s father, is a reporter by trade, and as executive producer on the documentary, gives the film a journalistic angle that ensures the interviews are revealing yet sensitively portrayed. By cutting between present day footage and the home video recordings of the past, the film gives a holistic view of Owen’s story from the very beginning.

Although a serious subject matter – autism is still hugely misunderstood within society – the film is perhaps surprisingly light-hearted, which seems to be a testimony to the way that the Suskind’s lived their lives and raised their children. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments within the film - Owen’s emotional articulacy is refreshing and at times genuinely funny as a result of his accurate observations, and these moments carry the film through its tougher times. In particular, a scene with Walt as he sits alone on a jetty allows him to open up, and we finally see the effect that Owen’s illness has on the rest of his family as Walt describes how he lies awake at night wondering how he will manage to care for his brother alongside his ageing parents.

Life, Animated has the potential to open people’s eyes to the reality of autism; told in a convincing and sensitive way, the documentary has the ability to bring tears to your eyes and make you laugh out loud. All in all, it’s a personal and telling story – a family’s desperate attempt to reconnect with their son in the face of adversity.

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