Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
Director Roger Ross Williams received a Sundance directing prize for this dynamic documentary about Owen Suskind and his equally extraordinary parents. Owen, now aged 23, is graduating from a special needs educational institute and into his first solo living situation, something his parents never expected possible.
Twenty years ago, they watched their three-year-old son stop talking and retreat into an unknowable autistic reality. Watching Walt Disney movies was one of the few family activities he enjoyed. Years later, almost deemed unreachable, Owen suddenly speaks, describing his older brother in relation to The Jungle Book and Peter Pan. From there the story is remarkable.
The playful Disney sidekick characters in particular engaged his sympathy, while their uncomplicated, vividly conveyed feelings showed a way for Owen to process his own. Later, following bullying at his high school, he obsessively drew an imagined league of Disney sidekicks where ‘no sidekick would get left behind’. He set up his own ‘Disney Club’ where he and his friends still discuss the emotional nuances of Disney movies while singing along to the musical numbers. He finds a girlfriend.
With intimate family footage, close personal interviews and Disney clips, the film is beautifully enhanced with original animations by French company Mac Guff. It’s a moving and powerful story of an ongoing search for connection and expression. With the support of a loving family and a bunch of brightly coloured cartoon characters, Owen finds a way to triumph, negotiating the tough realities of his life and heart. — JR