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Owen Suskind stopped interacting with the world at the age of three. His parents were devastated as he lost his ability to engage and to communicate. But he would watch Disney movies. All the Disney movies. His parents and older brother Walt would watch with him, the one thing they could really enjoy together as a family.

One day Owen uttered some sounds over and over that they realized were the words of Ursula from the movie The Little Mermaid. It wasn’t much, and they weren’t sure what to make of it. Then, when he was 6, he uttered a complete sentence for the first time, again in reference to Disney. Owen could frame his feelings through scenes in Disney movies, accessing emotions and language in a way he otherwise had no ability to do, and using that framework to let his family into his inner world.

His journalist father, Ron, told Owen’s story in the bestselling book Life, Animated. Director Roger Ross Williams has now made a documentary by the same title, giving viewers new insight into the unique joys and challenges of living with autism. Whether you’ve read the book or not, this documentary is a fascinating look at how much we all crave the same things—love, intimacy, significance—even when our brains work differently.

As the film begins, Owen is about to move into an apartment on his own. He is both terrified and excited, and the movie follows his emotional state as he makes this big transition in his life. His family too are both appreciative that he has this opportunity and worried that he’s not ready. The film gives the history of the family’s experience with autism while documenting Owen’s steps to independence.

Affirming and humorous, this film explores the very human needs and desires of Owen’s heart, and the family that wants to help meet them. On disc now. (Sony)

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