Movie Review: “Life, Animated” – Tragically Simple

Written by Matt Butler September 23, 2016

Life, Animated

Something you may not know about me: I have autism. If we’re being specific, it’s Aspergers Syndrome (the DSM V has recently removed Aspergers from their ‘Official’ List of Diagnoses, but it will take a while before I remove it from mine). With that, you might understand my initial hesitation to seeing Life, Animated. It’s the same reason it took me so long to sit down and watch Autism In Love, the fear that I might see myself, too much of myself, in the film’s real-life characters. I’ve spent so much of my adolescence trying to distance myself from the conventional image of social disability, only occasionally acknowledging how its dramatically influenced my life and perspective of life. So to see Life, Animated, a film centered on a 20-something stuck in a perpetual Disney-fueled manchildhood, feels dangerously close to home for me. But, much like Autism In Love, what drives Life, Animated isn’t a push for social awareness, but a plunge into universal themes, namely growing up.

Owen Suskind is a boy trapped in a man’s body. His motor and social skills are impaired to the point that he requires a small committee to plan out his daily activities. But that’s not what makes Owen tick. What really drives Owen is Disney. The exaggerated expressions, lovable sidekicks, and wide-eyed simplicity synonymous with all Disney animated features is Owen’s safe haven for an always darkening world of emotional and mental complexities: adulthood.

Life, Animated

“Peter Pan doesn’t want to grow up, because when you grow up, you lose all your magical childhood times.”

It’s easy to view Life, Animated as a success story, especially given its history. Owen’s diagnosis was done in a time when Autism was given a less-than-flattering portrayal (one I wish the movie delved deeper into, beyond just being bullied in school). But there is an undercurrent feeling of tragedy throughout the film. Not just that Owen remains fixed in a childlike perspective, but also how applicable Owen’s situation is to the average adulthood, and why films like Disney’s can be such a safe haven.

Life, Animated

“Owen, how does it feel to be you?”

I’ve mentioned the simplicity, the exaggerated emotions, the wacky sidekicks, but there’s something else I’m betting draws Owen to Disney animation: the conflicts. Disney heroes and heroines are almost always put in a spot that tests their independence (Ariel seeks out the Sea Witch, Belle has to rescue her father, Aladdin must survive as a street rat, Peter Pan must evade Captain Hook). Ever wonder why Disney has such a grudge against parents? I mean, there is a real reason for it, but from a dramatic standpoint, it pushes the protagonist into a conflict situation. It tests their resolve, which fleshes out the character and moves the plot forward, all at the cost of parental figures. Owen, by contrast, is surrounded by parental figures, so to find a world where individuals trapped in adverse situations always manage to earn a happy ending, that’s got to be the most optimistic world you can imagine. Optimism to match with uncertainty.

Life, Animated

“He’s gonna have to fall and fail. We’re not afraid of that as we used to be.”

So, despite my prior reluctance, I’m glad I saw Life, Animated, if only for its eye-opening ideas on adulthood. Apart from that, it’s a wonderfully straightforward and visceral account of boyhood. At times the film seems anxious in its forward motion, but that helps to accentuate a story that feels much the same. Special shout out goes to animators Mathieu Betard, Olivier Lescot, and Philippe Sonrier, who give Owen’s story the artistry it deserves. They should be working for Disney, end of story.

My Rating: 7/10

Life, Animated

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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