The Orchard 1 hour 29 minutes PG
What if your child only spouted gibberish or stopped speaking all together? That’s what happened to Owen Suskind, a fun loving little boy who changed, practically overnight. Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Ron Suskind was a New York Times reporter at the time and wrote a best selling book about his son in 2014. He and his wife, Cornelia, and their older son, Walter, are very verbal and this was disturbing. When Owen literally shut down at the age of 3, doctors put him through a battery of tests and discovered that Owen was autistic. That started a process of trying to find ways to communicate with him.
The one thing he loved was watching Disney animated films and one day he started spouting dialogue from “The Little Mermaid” to express what he was feeling. This was a revelation to his parents and the more they encouraged it, the more Owen began to communicate and grow.
This is a special film that starts with Owen as a young man about to embark on a life on his own, with flashbacks to his development from the time he was a baby. His parents were incredibly dedicated and used every resource to breakthrough. The messages in those Disney films he loved and watched over and over again are what finally struck a chord and created dramatic play that turned into expressions of feelings and conversations with the whole family.
Academy Award winning Director Roger Ross Williams makes watching the film somewhat laborious having us go through just about each step of his development, but it shows what patience from family to find the key to unlock those doors can do to change the life of someone with personal challenges which also can change parents’ lives when their child is able to be more independent. There are a lot of interviews which bog down the pace of the film, and some repetition, but some of it is necessary to bring out the emotional impact on Owen and his family. Williams also adds animation of Owen through the years with his characters which is very artistic, but is sometimes distracting rather than helpful.
Owen is an engaging young man with a lot of talent and a child like excitement over little things that is contagious. He likes to imitate the characters in his favorite Disney films and does their voices and expressions very well. The film shows a surprise visit from Disney voiceover idols, Jonathan Freeman and Gilbert Gottfried who play Jafar and Iago, respectively in Aladdin. That is a very fun and touching scene for the audience as well as for Owen.
Owen is a very upbeat, talented guy. He doesn’t just say the lines but does them with meaning and feeling. He even started drawing figures of his favorite “sidekicks,” the characters other than the main one that he could identify with and making up his own stories about them.
Because Owen has done so well, he is now asked to talk about his life and autism and you see him travel to France to give a brief talk at a conference there. That is very moving as he explains who he is and how he works.
Is this worth your bucks? Seeing the dedication and patience of Owen’s family to help him be as independent as he can be is definitely worthwhile and often very entertaining. You are going to fall in love with this young man who is very smart and has a great sense of humor.
Of particular note is his relationship with his older brother, Walter, who, among many subjects, talks about Owen’s relationship with his girlfriend and explains to the audience that there is no sex education in Disney films which poses some practical limits. Owen is now in his early 20’s and is living in his own apartment.
Owen has achieved more than his parents could have thought possible. But much of that success is because of his parents and the good messages and values supported in Owen’s massive library of Disney films. We give credit to Walt Disney Studios for giving permission to use clips from their classics Director Ross was allowed to show in this documentary.
Owen can spout any line from any film and act it out which he does frequently with his father. Like he says in the film repeating dialogue from The Little Mermaid, “Children got to be free to lead their own lives.” Now his Dad suggests that Walt Disney Animation Studios is ready to do that and they just might think of using Owen as a Voiceover in one of their films because he’s that good at it. We agree.