'Life, Animated' shows how a family uses Disney movies to communicate with son with autism
Aladdin, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid are all Disney movies that have helped capture children’s imaginations for decades.
But for one child, Owen Suskind, these movies helped release his voice.
His parents captured his story in a documentary, Life, Animated.
The Oscar-nominated film was screened in Ville-Saint-Laurent’s Cinema Guzzo to raise funds for Jem workshops, a non-profit organization that helps provide work for people with disabilities.
Owen’s father and the author, Ron Suskind, was there.
He says Owen stopped speaking when he was three years old. He was diagnosed with regressive autism.
For four years, his parents couldn’t communicate with him. It was as if their little boy was gone.
“Here’s this loved one that’s right in front of you but you can’t reach him, you can’t help him,” Suskind told Global News.
But then his parents realized, “that if you throw him a line from a Disney movie, he’d throw you back the next line and that he’d memorize all the Disney movies — all of them, since Snow White in 1937,” Suskind explained.
So to reach Owen, the family turned to Disney characters. Every night, they would re-enact a scene from the Disney movies Owen liked and get into characters, including Iago, the parrot from Aladdin.
“Owen, Owen, what does it feel like to be you?” Suskind says he asked Owen in Iago’s voice.
“He answered me after two minutes: ‘I love the way your foul little mind works.’ That’s Jaffar! We’re speaking in Disney dialogue and it was like fireworks went off.”
Years later, Suskind, a Pulitzer-prize-winning political correspondent, decided to put his day job aside and use his skills to honour his son’s request: “It was sort of like: you’re a writer, Mom’s a writer and it was kind of a challenge: ‘Can you do something about the fact that people don’t see me for who I am?'”
It’s how Life, Animated came to be, thinking it could also help other families going through similar experiences.
“The way that it’s done is so real and so true and it speaks to so many families,” said Jem Workshops board member Sheri Spunt. “I think it’s important for our community to know they’re not alone.”