On Monday June 20th, the acclaimed new documentary Life, Animated held its New York premiere screening at the Crosby Street Hotel. The film tells the story of Owen Suskind, a young autistic man, who with the help of his family was able to use his love of Disney animated films to learn to communicate with the world. The film from Oscar winning documentarian Roger Ross Williams arrived after several engagements at festivals including Sundance where Williams claimed the Directing Award for a U.S. Documentary.
Immediately after the screening, Williams came out and introduced the Suskind family including Owen, his parents Ron and Cornelia Suskind, and Owen’s older brother Walt for a Q&A session with the audience. Many in the emotional audience often took the opportunity to praise Owen’s courage and the family’s unwavering support of him through his struggles. One attendee reached out to Owen’s parents, asking if they felt it took courage to move Owen into his first independent apartment as they did in the film. Cornelia Suskind answered, “It took a lot of steeling ourselves for not only of course that moment in the apartment…, but leaving him in Riverview [the college Owen attended] for the first time. And actually the moment I remember best and most poignantly was leaving him at sleep away camp for the first time… I recall vividly driving home to DC and it was a nine hour drive and I literally had to pull over about every 20 minutes.” Ron Suskind also remembered right before Owen left for college them both being brought up to Owen’s room to watch a scene from The Little Mermaid with him. Owen proceeded to perform the scene from memory in front of the crowd, playing both the characters of King Triton and Sebastian:
“It’s like I always say your majesty, children have got to be free to lead their own lives.”
“Like you always say, Sebastian?”
“Well I guess there’s just one problem left.
“And what’s that your majesty?”
“How much I’m going to miss her.”
Some in the audience asked questions to Owen directly about his love of animation. He shirked off requests to name a favorite Disney movie saying he “Loves them all” and told them his dream was “To draw character animation art, especially from Disney and Disney-Pixar”. When asked about non-traditional Disney animated films, like Pixar, Owen responded, “The only Disney-Pixar films I love are Toy Story 1 and 2, A Bug’s Life, the first Monster’s Inc., the first Finding Nemo, the first Cars, Ratatouille, and Inside Out”, while also giving praise to recent films The Peanuts Movie, Zootopia, and The Angry Birds Movie.
The family was also joined during this session by special guest Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of the Iago in Disney’s Aladdin who performed a scene from the film with Owen, as well as Academy Award winning composer Alan Menken who wrote the music for many of Owen’s favorite films including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Menken was especially touched by Owen’s story, saying “Oscars are great, but this beats any Oscar, because when we create these things…we create a structure that others will live in and this is the most amazing evidence of what one can do within that structure and how they can make it their own in an amazing way.”
At a reception following the film, Owen and his family joined together around Menken’s piano for a sing-along of his most famous Disney songs, and providing a joyous cap to the evening.
Life, Animated, which is distributed by The Orchard, will open in limited release July 1st.