At a young age, Owen seemed like a healthy, growing boy. Suddenly, at the age of 3, something dramatic changed. Owen became listless and seemed to lose his ability to speak. After getting tested, it was discovered that he had autism. While the doctors believed there was a chance his vocal abilities would never develop, his parents maintained hope. While watching The Little Mermaid, he spoke something that could have been gibberish but could have been an attempt to speak up. While it produced another spark of hope, it was not until his brother’s 9th birthday that Owen finally spoke up. The journey ahead was not going to be easy, but Owen’s family believed they could give him the great life he deserved.
The Power of Disney: While there were many factors that led to his growth and ability to overcome his disability, the animated films of Disney provided a context to connect with the world around him. Starting with the recitation of dialogue from the films, Owen used the themes and lessons from the films to express his feelings and communicate with his family. When he felt sad, Bambi’s mother or Mufasa and the canyon let him express his sadness to his parents. Iago was the sidekick he needed when he felt alone and bullied at school. Disney continues to be a bridge he uses to survive and find his happiness.
Affluence & Managing the Challenge: One of the criticisms that could be brought up about this story was the fact that the Suskinds had the means to be able to provide support for Owen’s therapy and schooling. He was even able to get an assisted-living apartment without a full-time job. The reality is that autism is a challenge for any family regardless of their means. They did not have control over the bullying at school or his heart being broken by his girlfriend. Unable to fully comprehend these challenges, it was still a major struggle to overcome those obstacles.
Life Through Storytelling: While the film’s title makes mention of the animated elements of the story, the actual story itself was crafted from Owen’s writing. For him, the sidekicks of Disney films provided motivation to show bravery, care, and compassion. His story focused on a young boy being chased by doubt and disconnect. The filmmakers took his story and animated his thoughts. Just like the greater film, it helped to exemplify the struggles of feeling lost and out of place, but it also promoted inner strength to fight for a connection to everything he cared about.
Final Thoughts: I truly loved this film. It was emotionally strong and promoted an image of autism many have never experienced. The strength of the family and of Owen individually was truly a sight to see. Watching him give the speech at the conference and experience love, loss, and recovery was truly inspiring. I believe this is a must-see film.
Dan’s Rating: 5.0/5