For Reel

Life, Animated (2016)
April 23, 2017, 3:14 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Roger Ross Williams
3 Stars
Life, AnimatedWhen he was three, the subject of Life, Animated began to lose motor skills and his power of speech. His parents, Ron and Cornelia, felt abandoned, and when they learned that Owen’s symptoms were the result of autism (which, at the time, was significantly more stigmatized than it is today), they were told the son that they knew would never be retrieved. A year after the diagnosis, Owen began reciting lines from Disney films that seemed to speak towards his situation—that is, the boy began to use Disney films as both a language tool and as a way of understanding the world. In Life, Animated, the now 25-year-old Owen is able with surprising elegance to discuss what draws him to these films and how they inform the way he relates to his disease and to the people in his life. It’s an amazing, rousing story, and the people involved are all admirably patient and empathetic—even at its darkest, there isn’t an ugly thought to be found in the telling. As enjoyable as the film is, however, Life, Animated brings up a series of questions that it doesn’t intend to answer, and as a result its limited perspective becomes a source of frustration. Late in the film, Owen’s brother Walter deals with the difficulty of explaining french kissing and sex to someone whose entire world is children’s films, and then openly confesses his anxieties about being a caretaker for his brother in the future. Walter’s infrequent appearances engage lines of questioning that provide the film’s most thought-provoking moments, and in the way that they recontextualize the narrative, it becomes increasingly difficult to continue to be seduced by the surface-level, hesitant telling.

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