Review by Justin Waldman for Mr. Will Wong
I want to start this review on a more personal note than the other reviews for Hot Docs. I have a brother who suffers from autism and I understand the struggles and hardship associated with it. But I also understand the wrong and terrible stigmas associated with autism as well. There are different levels of autism ranging from high functioning verbal to low functioning non-verbal and my brother falls in the realm of non-verbal and relatively high functioning. In Life, Animated the subject of the documentary, Owen, is verbal but the way the Documentary explains how he became verbal is incredibly passionate and brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it had something to do with how my brother and I tried to communicate with while we were younger, who knows.
Life, Animated is about Owen Suskind and his relationship with the Disney Animated Movies that helped shape who he has become today. Owen, like many other children who have autism, was diagnosed early on at the age of three. As his motor skills diminished doctors were worried he would never be able to speak again.
Owen loves Disney Movies, they are his favourite thing in the world to watch. After being diagnosed with autism, his family bought all of the Disney Movies they could get their hands on and let Owen watch them. Who would have thought that this would be the way Owen learned how to talk and understand the English language? As Owen explains he watched the movies thousands of times, memorizing the dialogue and taught himself to understand and talk, its truly magical. It is apparent from the Documentary and the TV appearance that he made back in 2014 with Gilbert Gottfried on Comedy Central’s Night of Too Many Stars that Owen is now stronger than ever before.
Growing up on Disney/Pixar Movies myself and connecting with my brother over these Films gives me hope for the future. Watching someone you care about not be able to express themselves but have endless joy and happiness with something you can share is the most magical experience anyone can ask for. And isn’t that what Disney preaches the most? A magical experience? Life, Animated is a magical experience that allows the audience to watch Owen get a second chance and learn through the Movies to create a life for himself that, were not for the magic of Disney, may not have existed. If you only see one movie at Hot Docs this year and you want to have tears streaming down your cheeks, see Life, Animated.
LIFE, ANIMATED opens in Toronto Friday, July 22, 2016 and other cities in August.
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