Life Animated


Life Animated (movie)

Life Animated by  Ron Suskind (book)

Every year there is a lot of excitement around the library when the list of Oscar-nominated films is announced.  Some of the chatter is what you would expect – is it a good movie? were the performances deserving of a nomination? how many times has Meryl Streep been nominated?  But often we like to talk about how many of the nominated films are based on books and even better, are they books that we have read?  WPL customers love to have this conversation as well and when the stakes are high – as they can be with an adaptation of a well-loved book – we can keep a conversation like this going for a long time.  I just love Academy Awards season.

In general I prefer books to movies.  Actually, movie popcorn is one of my favourite foods, but I still prefer books over movies.  Books are so convenient, you can imagine the characters to look any way you please, it is so easy to flip back a few pages to re-read, and you can carry one in your purse or backpack – it’s perfectly portable entertainment.  I almost always say that I prefer books over movies when a person asks the question “which do you prefer; books or movies?”  In this year’s list of nominated films there is one movie that will allow you to be a fan of both the movie and the book.  I am always excited when my favourite actors, films and songs are nominated for awards but this year I was beyond thrilled when the documentary Life, Animated was added to the shortlist for Best Documentary Feature. This movie is about the life of Owen Suskind , the son of Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several NYT bestsellers.

When Ron’s son Owen was a toddler he began to turn inward and lose the ability to communicate with his family.  Owen had been chatty and outgoing when he slowly stopped talking to his parents and brother.  Once they received the diagnosis of autism this Massachusetts family were set on the path of sorting through the different theories and therapies while coping with incredible stress.  One day, amidst all of their frustration, they thought they could detect something familiar in the sounds that Owen was making and they realized he was quoting the dialogue of a character from the Walt Disney film The Little Mermaid.  Like many children growing up in the ‘90s Owen and his brother were fans of watching Walt Disney movies and he had made an important connection with the world created by those masterful storytellers.  With the help of these captivating tales he begins to slowly break through and communicate with his parents and older brother Walter.

Owen’s father wrote about their family history in his memoir, Life animated : A story of sidekicks, heroes and autism, published in 2014 and it is a remarkable window into a story that shares the disappointment of coping with a school system that does not always seem to welcome Owen, a complex medical organization that is not providing answers and a world that isn’t ready to receive a family that doesn’t fit the narrow constraints of what seems ‘normal’.  His record of their family’s struggle to try and find support for Owen in their community is sometimes hard to read and when they have their first breakthrough in communication through the Walt Disney dialogue and music I absolutely cried.  I was thinking to myself – of course, he is talking about the witch in The Little Mermaid – she is stealing Ariel’s voice and he wants to have a voice!  This is a book that makes every scene, every conversation come alive.  They don’t award Pulitzer Prizes to just anyone, you know.

The documentary that the Suskind family created with Academy Award-nominated director Roger Ross Williams uses wonderful footage from their family’s videos, spectacular original animation, and current footage of what Owen’s life is like now as he takes his first steps toward living independently.  He is moving into his own apartment, starting a job and running a Disney film appreciation club.  It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016 and has never stopped winning awards because of the joy it brings to see a young man who so loves movies and music on your screen.  When he speaks in the voices of characters like those from Aladdin and The lion king, using perfect cadence and dialogue, it is magical to watch.

So this is one of those rare times in life when I didn’t have to say I favoured the book over the movie.  I pick them both and so should you.  And, if you haven’t had a chance to see the film or read the book before the night of the Academy Awards then spend some time and look at the trailer for the film ( and learn a little more about Owen and his family.  You will be cheering for them when they win.

– – Penny M.