MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
On DVD, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Microsoft Movies, You Tube, Google Play, VUDU and other streaming services.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams. Documentary
Ever since the invention of the VCR, countless families have had the experience of watching a child view a favorite Disney animated film over and over again. The movies soon become beloved companions and the Disney characters become a part of a child’s worldview. Disney figured this out over sixty years ago and kept their heroes and villains alive through comic books (the Donald Duck adventures by Carl Banks are in a class by themselves) and stand-alone books featuring Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Chip and Dale. You can even cite Disney for creating the subgenre of Princess Parties for young girls.
Life, Animated (an Academy-Award nominated documentary) tells the powerful true story of Owen Suskind, son of the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ron Suskind, who disappeared into autism at the age of 3. Suddenly all communication between parents and child came to a dramatic stop. Consultants were brought in and Owen’s behavior was observed clinically, with little progress. One day Ron and his wife saw Owen watching a videotape of The Little Mermaid and rewinding it again and again to pick up a big of dialogue. Close listening revealed it to be similar to a phrase that Owen had been repeating. Sure enough, he was connecting to the Disney cartoon movies.
The Disney films had not only memorable villains but excellent values and a wide variety of sidekicks. As Owen began to open up slowly, the films accompanied him along the way, creating a stronger relationship with his big brother Walt. The films also inspired Owen’s creativity, as he draws pages of sidekick characters and (much later) develops his own story featuring them (“No Sidekick Left Behind!”)
Life, Animated follows Owen from childhood to young adulthood and does a great job showing the love and patience that his family gave to him as they learned to accept his autism as a necessary part of his uniqueness. Owen is a brilliant thinker and an engaging person who nevertheless struggles to find a way to connect with other people. The film conveniently steps away from the deep family challenges faced by the Suskinds to highlight the victories and joys of their shared journey.
We are treated not only to clips from Disney films but the filmmakers use animation to tell parts of Owen’s story. Early scenes are in simple black and white, developing into more detailed animation as Owen grows in his ability to connect with his world.
Ron Suskind admits that his successful career has afforded his family the luxury of doing things for Owen that others cannot, but there is a down-to-earth quality to this family that is genuinely moving.
As an older teenager, Owen attends a school with developmentally challenged students. He organizes a Disney Movie Club in which they are able to talk about their feelings using the baseline of movies like The Lion King.
Although the topic of autism is dealt with sensitively – and this is a very good thing – the use of animated films and their stories to help families talk about their feelings is the main reason to seek out and discover Life, Animated. The Christian faith is a religion that finds its core values in the stories of the Hebrew scriptures and the four gospels. Disney and the Bible are to be commended for such high standards. (Unfortunately, the worldview expressed in my extensive library of Looney Tunes and Three Stooges shorts do not stand such close scrutiny.)
Life, Animated is highly recommended to you. Take time to watch it with a sidekick.
Five halos: The power of story and the love of family are combined in this moving and entertaining family-friendly film.
One pitchfork: Mild talk about sexual relationships that will not be noticed by younger children.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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