I’m sitting, writing a review of a movie. I do this not because anyone forces me to, or even because it’s a particularly lucrative field. I love movies. Always have, hopefully always will. Like many people, I use the worlds presented in the things I watch and read to make sense of the one I live in. They’re entertaining, sure, but they’re also useful tools.
Enter Life, Animated, a stunning documentary that tells us the story of Owen, an autistic child who finds that the easiest way to relate to the world around him is through Disney animated films. A simple premise that proves remarkably affecting in premise.
Life, Animated recounts Owen’s entire life, splitting its time between interviews with his parents and following Owen as he begins to live life on his own. Certainly the more touching portion of the story comes in the form of Owen’s childhood, as he starts out an entirely normal boy and is slowly crippled by autism. This portion is punctuated by actual animated segments of filmmaking, ones that take us inside Owen’s mind.
This stylistic touch is what makes the film something more than a touching story. There is a real confidence to what’s being done, here. The animation allows us inside his world. We understand what’s happening in Owen’s brain, the ways in which he is forced to speak through the characters. It’s what he knows, and it’s the only way he can understand the world.
Owen’s story is a moving one, and it is made ever more precise because of its intimate tone. There are no grand statements here because the film really doesn’t need them. Instead, its story becomes revealing, one that gives us a look inside a single family with the hope that it can show us just how difficult this situation is. Owen couldn’t communicate for years, and that was as frustrating for him as it was for those who loved him.
In the present day, Owen’s struggles continue, but they are not ones entirely unique to his situation. He lives in an assisted facility, but he’s essentially being forced to deal with the same realities as every other young adult. He’s dealing with relationships, with being alone for the first time, and with his own independence.
The movie wouldn’t work if Owen were less charming, but he proves to be completely winning, as does the rest of his family. This is a film which makes us care deeply about everything they went through, and it’s one that goes out of its way to make us just a little bit weepy.
Life, Animated is by no means perfect. There are a few tangents too many for my liking, and the film goes on a little longer than it should. Still, Life, Animated does a lot with its little story. It’s an inventive film, and it’s also one which reminds audiences how much they have in common with Owen. He uses fiction to contextualize the world, which only means he uses it correctly. Owen loves movies, so I was always going to love Owen. He’s real, his struggles are real, and watching him work through them and overcome them is rewarding. Much like the animated films which are its center of gravity, this film gives us a view of how art and life intertwine and enhance one another. Life, Animated is a life enhancing film. Go see it.