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Life, Animated’ explores an autistic man’s cartoon salvation

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Life, Animated

Three and a half stars

Life, Animated Directed by Roger Ross Williams. Rated PG. Opens Friday at Regal Village Square.

It’s pretty much impossible not to root for Owen Suskind, the star of heartwarming and hopeful documentary Life, Animated. Based on the book by Owen’s father, Animated shows how the autistic Owen learned to communicate with others via his obsession with Disney animated movies. It’s an affecting portrayal of human perseverance and the sometimes unexpected power of movies, and Owen himself is nearly as wholesome and likable as the cartoon heroes he hopes to emulate.

Director Roger Ross Williams follows the 23-year-old as he graduates from an educational program and prepares to move out on his own, while also looking back on Owen’s childhood through home movies and interviews with Owen’s parents and brother. The movie’s outlook is generally optimistic, but it’s never saccharine, and Williams doesn’t shy away from the difficulties faced by Owen and his family. The bulk of the movie focuses on the Disney movies Owen watches over and over, which help him understand social interactions but might also limit that understanding (when his girlfriend breaks up with him, his simplistic view of romance makes it even tougher to deal with). Original animated segments depicting Owen as his own kind of Disney hero aren’t as powerful, but they contribute to the movie’s goal of teaching the audience how to relate to Owen just as Disney movies taught him how to relate to everyone else.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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