Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Roger Ross Williams|
|Written by||Ron Suskind|
|Based on||Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism|
by Ron Suskind
|Music by||Dylan Stark|
|Edited by||David Teague|
Roger Ross Williams Productions
|Distributed by||The Orchard|
Life, Animated is a 2016 American documentary by director Roger Ross Williams. It is co-produced by Williams with Julie Goldman, Carolyn Hepburn and Christopher Clements. Life, Animated is based on journalist Ron Suskind's 2014 book Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, which tells the story of his son, Owen Suskind who struggled with autism and learned how to communicate with the outside world through his love of Disney films.
Upon its release, the film received rave reviews from critics and won numerous awards including the Sundance Film Festival award for Best Direction and the Special Achievement Annie Award. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature category at the 89th Academy Awards, but lost to O.J.: Made in America.
Owen Suskind was a boy of considerable promise, until he's diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. As Owen withdrew into his silent state, his parents almost lost hope that he would find some way to meaningfully interact with his world. However, that way was found through animated films, especially ones by Walt Disney Animation Studios, which provided Owen a way to understand the world through its stories to the point of creating his own and grew obsessed with despite also owning some non-Disney movies, too. This film covers the life of Owen and how he manages to become as functional as possible with the help of Disney and his family to the point of having his own life. However, Owen soon learns as well that there is more to real life, such as relationships and breakups, than what Disney can illustrate in animation even as his family prepares itself for an uncertain future with him.
- Jonathan Freeman – voice of Jafar
- Gilbert Gottfried – voice of Iago
- Alan Rosenblatt
- Owen Suskind
- Ron Suskind
The animation is done by Mac Guff, which also worked on Illumination Entertainment films such as Despicable Me and The Lorax. To secure the rights for the clips and characters used in the film, Williams showed the unfinished product to the heads of department put together by Disney Productions president Sean Bailey. Roger refers to it as "the day I made the lawyers cry" after the end of the presentation. The films selected for the film were "100% Suskind".
The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 93% approval rating based on 103 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Life, Animated offers a heartwarming look at one family's journey, and a fascinating message that's more than enough to outweigh its unanswered questions." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 75 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The Guardian's critic Lanre Bakare praised the film and said, "It's a beguiling mix of animated storytelling and narration that doesn't flinch from exploring the emotional highs and lows that accompany a life with autism." Kenneth Turan of LA Times lauded the film and said, "[Williams] spent two years on this project, and the trust everyone involved placed in him allowed for an emotional honesty that is Life, Animated's greatest strength." Writing for Variety, Justin Chang wrote, "This latest film from Roger Ross Williams ("God Loves Uganda") teems with insights into how children's fantasy can and can't bridge a developmental gap, but works on an even more basic, emotional level as a warm testament to a family's love and resilience." The Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge called it "a documentary gem." Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post positively reviewed the series and said, "Life, Animated makes fascinating points, about the power of cinema, about meeting our loved ones where they are and, as Ron says, about who gets to decide what constitutes a meaningful life" Rolling Stone's chief film critic Peter Travers said, "In no way does Owen's story claim to be a cure-all. Instead of false hope, it offers up possibility, the chance of a stimulus that might get past the blocks of developmental disorder. That's more than encouraging. Life, Animated is truly inspirational."
Writing for The A.V. Club, Noel Murray said, "On the list of Disney-related 2016 releases about child-rearing and handicaps, this one goes just above "Finding Dory." What it lacks in wacky hijinks, it makes up in hard truths." Reviewing for RogerEbert.com, film critic Sheila O'Malley wrote, "Powerful and emotional, without being manipulative. It is deeply inspiring, without trying to be. It is honest about Owen's struggles, and the struggles of his family." Entertainment Weekly's, Joe McGovern also lauded the series saying, "The Suskinds' humongous hearts are obviously in the right place and their openness is to be admired and encouraged - even if a book, more than a movie, remains the better venue to fairly and honestly tell Owen's extraordinary story." Kyle Smith of New York Post explained, "Life, Animated oversimplifies the situation, contriving to use endless clips from Disney movies to make a case that movie magic really can better people's lives. Unfortunately, by the end of the movie it's clear that Disney can't help Owen negotiate sex, breakups or many other challenges he faces as an adult."
Some publications however were more critical towards the film. In a lukewarm review of Empire David Parkinson wrote, "A touch twee at times, but the use of classic and original animation is admirable, while Owen emerges as the king of sidekicks." Film critic Anthony Lane of The New Yorker said, "Owen has made immense progress, to which Life, Animated is a stirring tribute, yet it leaves a trail of questions unanswered or unasked." The New York Times's Jeannette Catsoulis quipped, "Belaboring the cartoon connection, the director leaves the family struggles that enrich Mr. Suskind's 2014 book of the same title stubbornly veiled." In a less enthusiastic review for Slant Magazine Clayton Dillard stated, "It never addresses Disney's wholly manufactured stranglehold on turning adolescent desire into a consumerist impulse."
Land of the Lost Sidekicks
Sidekicks used in the film:
- Baloo from The Jungle Book 
- Timon and Rafiki from The Lion King 
- Iago and Abu from Aladdin 
- Lucky Jack from Home on the Range 
- Sebastian from The Little Mermaid 
|Academy Awards||Best Documentary Feature||Life, Animated||Nominated|
|Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival||IDFA Audience Award||Roger Ross Williams||2nd-Place|
|Annie Awards||Special Achievement Award||Life, Animated||Won|
|Black Reel Awards||Best Feature Documentary||Life, Animated||Nominated|
|Budapest International Documentary Festival||Student Jury Award||Roger Ross Williams||Won|
|Chicago Film Critics Association Awards||Best Documentary||Life, Animated||Nominated|
|Cinema Eye Honors Awards||The Unforgettable Award||Owen Suskind||Won|
|Cinema Eye Audience Choice Prize||Roger Ross Williams||Nominated|
|Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design or Animation||Brian Bowman
|Critics' Choice Documentary Awards||Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary||Life, Animated||Won|
|Best Director (Theatrical Feature)||Roger Ross Williams||Nominated|
|Best Documentary Feature||Nominated|
|Most Innovative Documentary||Nominated|
|DeadCENTER Film Festival||Best Documentary||Roger Ross Williams||Won|
|Detroit Film Critics Society Awards||Best Documentary||Life, Animated||Nominated|
|Directors Guild of America Awards||Outstanding Directing – Documentaries||Life, Animated||Nominated|
|Docville||Best International Documentary||Life, Animated||Won|
|Dublin Film Critics' Circle Awards||Best Documentary||Life, Animated||3rd-Place|
|Florida Film Critics Circle Awards||Best Documentary Film||Life, Animated||Nominated|
|Full Frame Documentary Film Festival||Best Documentary Feature||Roger Ross Williams||Won|
|Heartland Film Festival||Truly Moving Picture Award||Roger Ross Williams
Roger Ross Williams Productions
|Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival||Top 20 Audience Favorites||Roger Ross Williams||Nominated|
|London Critics Circle Film Awards||Best Documentary of the Year||Life, Animated||Nominated|
|Melbourne International Film Festival||Most Popular Documentary||Roger Ross Williams||8th-Place|
|Nantucket Film Festival||Best Documentary Feature||Roger Ross Williams||Won|
|National Board of Review||Top Five Best Documentaries||Life, Animated||Won|
|North Carolina Film Critics Association||Best Documentary Feature||Life, Animated||Nominated|
|Producers Guild of America Awards||Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures||Julie Goldman
Roger Ross Williams
|Satellite Awards||Best Documentary Film||Life, Animated||Nominated|
|San Francisco International Film Festival||Best Documentary Film||Life, Animated||Won|
|Seattle International Film Festival||Golden Space Needle Award - Best Documentary||Roger Ross Williams||Nominated|
|Stockholm Film Festival||Broze Horse - Best Documentary||Roger Ross Williams||Nominated|
|Sundance Film Festival||Best Direction - Documentary||Roger Ross Williams||Won|
|Grand Jury Prize - Best Documentary||Nominated|
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