This quietly moving doc has a hook worthy of the most shameless of Hollywood weepies. But the film is tender and patient, fascinated by the challenges of daily life. Just before he turned three, Owen Suskind stopped communicating with the world, giving up language for gibberish -- in the words of his father, the reporter Ron Suskind, Owen had become "unglued." Doctors diagnosed Owen as autistic, and his family lost communication with him for years.
But then, twice, at humdrum moments, the words came back: First, Owen spoke a line of dialogue along with a video of Aladdin, one of the many animated Disney films the Suskinds watched with their son. The next jolt came almost four years later. At the birthday party of his older brother, Owen piped up with his observation: "Walter doesn't want to grow up, like Mowgli or Peter Pan."
Owen's parents, warm and endearing presences, tell these stories, still teary in interviews. The filmmakers depict key moments in animation that suggests the world as interpreted through a mind like Owen's. Most memorable is the day Ron hid under a bedspread and tried speaking to six-year-old Owen through a puppet of Iago, the parrot Gilbert Gottfried voiced in Aladdin. That sparked their first conversation in years.
The film is attentive to the grain of life as it's lived. We follow Owen, now an eager and talkative young man in his early 20s, feeling his way into adulthood with the support of his family -- and seeking comfort and meaning in Disney. Life, Animated is rich with insight about the role our popular culture plays in child development, but it's richer still in love.