NZ International Film Festival review: Life, Animated

Life, Animated has previously played at the Sundance and Hot Docs festivals
Life, Animated has previously played at the Sundance and Hot Docs festivals

Many of us grew up loving Disney's animated films. But none of us needed them like Owen Suskind did.

The delightful, poignant documentary Life, Animated explains how they became a lifeline for the boy with autism, helping him learn about the world in a way that felt safe and familiar.

More than just entertaining him, films like Aladdin and The Lion King are a compass by which he interprets, navigates and sometimes communicates.

But life is not as simple as a Disney script and Life, Animated depicts Suskind's Peter Pan-like struggles and triumphs as, at the age of 23, he takes his first tentative steps towards independent living.

This central theme of growing up will resonate; having to face up to the fact that sooner or later, just like Simba, we all have to figure out life without our parents.

Suskind faces greater challenges than many, but he and his family generously share their remarkable story in this touching film.

Sensitively told by Academy Award-winner Roger Ross Williams, Life, Animated finds the perfect way to bring us into Suskind's world - simple, evocative animated sequences based on a story Suskind wrote about his experiences living with autism and Disney.

For House of Mouse trainspotters, this is the first time the studio has allowed its characters to be reanimated in non-Disney style, and it pays off - not just elevating the visual side of the documentary but also emphasising the pivotal role characters such as Iago and Zazu have played in Suskind's life.

It's a window into his own magic kingdom and, for those who may have grown skeptical of childhood movies and fairytales, it shows the truly transformative power of stories.

One thing which is very apparent throughout this film is that Suskind has been given the best possible chance at independence by his incredible family - the unconditional love from his parents and their unrelenting quest for him to live a fulfilling life, made possible by their financial means to get him specialised help.

Their persistence, and Suskind's, is inspirational.

Williams treats his subjects with utmost respect and compassion, producing a film which is tinged with sadness but mostly leaves you feeling warm-hearted and hopeful.

Four stars.

This film is playing as part of the 2016 New Zealand International Film Festival.

     Life, Animated:: Director: Roger Ross Williams:: Rating: Exempt:: Running Time: 91 minutes

Reviewed by Kim Choe / Newshub.