Brainstorm: Life, Animated Review

Director, Robert Ross Williams brings us a colourful and tender documentary with his newest release Life, Animated. A coming of age movie about Autism and of making sense of the world through film.

Many people can claim to grow up watching Disney films. Owen Suskind is no different. Every day was filled with toy sword fights with Dad, constant re-runs of the Little Mermaid and scribblings of favourite characters. But as he grew up he became distant, regressing into himself. Owen would communicate with babbles and his movement was erratic – unable to properly walk in a straight line.

The difference before and after his sudden change was stark. The once bubbly child was socially removed. He rarely talked or made eye contact, he would deviate from crowds at birthday parties. His parents learnt that he had autism and to their horror, were told of the possibility that he would not be able to speak again or potentially meet major milestones that other children will achieve.

Over time, his parents realised that Owen wasn’t babbling nonsense but was repeating his favourite lines from Disney movies. He had become a Disney dialogue dictionary, pulling phrases and lines verbatim and forming his worldview alongside Aladdin, Simba and others. Even though he was closed off, he was intelligent – learning how to read by watching the credits to every film.

“Life, Animated” documents Suskind’s growth as a 23-year-old into an independent adult dealing with holding down jobs, figuring out romance and living by himself. After spending all of his life watching Peter Pan’s escapades and Quasimodo’s struggle to fit in, Owen has become the star of his own story, with Disney acting as one of his beloved sidekicks; contextualising the major moments of his life.


Owen Suskind, the focus of the documentary

Even as he matures, his emotions and the way he interacts with the world has been and almost always will be funnelled through a patchwork of dialogue from his childhood. It’s these many moments speckled throughout the film that we get to see exactly what Owen is thinking. When he moves away for the first time, he lies in bed watching Bambi, specifically the heartbreaking scene where Bambi’s mother is shot. Without saying anything, Owen feels; He feels lonesome and misses his Mother.

Through Owen’s eyes, the many moments in Disney that I may have balked at have a newer sheen of deeper meaning: ones that are articulate in how they deal with learning how to belong, or how to deal with adversity during dark times. Maybe the repeated viewings have accumulated to an intimate knowledge that can only be gleamed by religious studying.

But such an approach using Disney as a bible to base oneself upon becomes clear in how it has flaws. Not everything in Disney translates accurately over to real life. There is a gaping point after the “happy ever after” that Disney films rarely account for – the complicated stuff that happens later on in the story. Even though Owen is 23, how do you approach topics like sex using examples from the films? – the solution to the question is cautiously attempted by a stand-in-mentor.

Life, Animated is a powerful documentary that refuses to shy away from the family’s struggles by covering things up. It shows the group effort to help Owen transition towards where he wants to be, validating who he is and not forcing him away towards where they want him to be. While at times twee, it packs emotional punch in its intimate interviews and the use of vivid animation to clarify how someone on the autistic spectrum thinks. By the end of the film, I genuinely do think I have seen someone change on camera during the short period.

Overall “life, animated” provides a stark look at the reality that many people affected by autism face on a daily basis, and perfectly demonstrates the demands that a modern society can have on people afflicted.

8/10 stars.


Celebrating Scotland – Greatest Scottish Literature Writers

Burns Night – the annual celebration of one of Scotland’s greatest literary figures – is less than a week away. So, as we celebrate all things Scottish it seems only natural that we look at some of the most celebrated figures in Scottish literature – from poets, playwrights and novelists – from the past to the present.

Robert Burns


The man himself. Scotland’s national poet and,  according to a 2009 public vote organised by STV, the greatest ever Scot. Some of his works include Hogmanay favourite ‘Auld Lang Syne‘, ‘A Red, Red Rose‘, and ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That‘. A vast majority of Burns’ work is in the public domain so there is no excuse to not brush up on your knowledge of the Bard – it can be found here: 

Sir Walter Scott


The Edinburgh-born novelist, poet and playwright, Sir Walter Scott remains a popular historical figure in Scottish literature. His influence can be seen clearly in the captial city – his novel ‘Waverley’ gave Edinburgh’s main train station its name and a monument in his honour towers over Princes Street. In addition, his face adorns Scottish banknotes. A huge figure in Scottish history.

Robert Louis Stevenson


Sticking with Edinburgh-born writers, his most famous works include the pirate adventure ‘Treasure Island’ and the influential horror ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. His stories have remained popular for over a hundred years and have received numerous adaptations over the years. Stevenson was also a keen poet and traveller, he died in Samoan Islands in 1894.

J.M. Barrie

by George Charles Beresford, vintage print, 1902

Pirates also played a big part of this author’s best known work, Barrie being primarily known as the author of ‘Peter Pan’, the timeless tale of the boy who would not grow up. Starting its life as a play in 1904, it was not until 1911 that the novel was released. The story continues to resonate with children and adults alike with an abundance of film and television adaptations – the best known of which is easily Disney’s 1953 animated film.

Alasdair Grey

Moving onto more modern figures now and Alasdair Grey is probably best known for his first novel ‘Lanark’ which was written over a period of 30 years. The book is still considered to be one of the most important of the past century, with its surreal yet realist depiction of Glasgow helping it take its rightful place as part of Scottish culture.

Iain Banks


A celebrated Science-Fiction author whose Culture series continues to influence the genre today. Born in Dunfermline in 1954, his first novel ‘The Wasp Factory’ was released in 1984. However, it was with the release of 1987’s ‘Consider Phlebas’ that he moved the genre away from its cyberpunk obsession and in turn helped to revive the space opera genre. He passed away at the age of 59 due to cancer, but lives on through his work.

Ian Rankin


A hugely prolific author, Rankin is the author behind the Inspector Rebus series of novels. Since 1987, there have been 21 novels in the series, which found a large audience as a television series between 2000 and 2007. Rankin’s series has cultivated a large following and looks to continue for a long time.

Irvine Welsh


Welsh’s first novel, ‘Trainspotting’ was published in 1993 and since then he has garnered a reputation for being a raw, controversial but excellent author. His stories depict a brutal side of Edinburgh that is rarely seen – sex, drugs and violence are major themes in his works. The film adaptation of Trainspotting had a huge impact on Scottish culture. With the imminent release of Trainspotting 2 it seems Welsh will continue to have an impact as one of Scotland’s modern literary greats.

Of course, this is just a small selection of Scottish literature greats. We would like you to tell us some of your favourites, either in the comment selection below or on Twitter @en4news2016

%d bloggers like this: