When director Roger Ross Williams set out to make a documentary about Owen Suskind, a young autistic man who learned to communicate from watching animated Disney movies, he knew animation would be essential to his film.
But Williams didn’t realize until later that his film, the Oscar-nominated “Life, Animated,” would include three different layers of animation, including Disney film clips that the studio granted him permission to use, and original animated sequences that illustrated scenes from the life of his subject.
And most importantly, his film also includes “The Land of the Lost Sidekicks,” a new six-minute animated short based on a story that Owen Suskind wrote about a land where the second bananas from Disney movies — Rafiki from “The Lion King,” Baloo from “The Jungle Book,” Iago from “Aladdin” and more — unite to fight off evil alongside Owen himself.
The short, which is included in “Life, Animated” and is now being shown exclusively at TheWrap, is based on Suskind’s drawings, which have been interpreted by the French animation company Mac Guff with the permission of Disney. Suskind himself provides the narration.
“It’s a film within a film, and it gives the film so much more complexity, because there are so many layers of animation in this film,” said Williams, who won an Oscar for the short doc “Music by Prudence” in 2010 and now serves as a governor in the Academy’s Documentary Branch.
Seeing “The Land of the Lost Sidekicks” assembled by Mac Guff, he added, was a particular treat.
“That was a magical part of the process, when it first came together,” he said. “I was in Paris with 15 young animators bringing Owen’s inner world to life. I looked out the window and there was the Eiffel Tower, and all these animators were lined up telling Owen’s story, with his face and his characters on their screens.
“I was in tears, and I thought, ‘When does this ever happen in documentaries?'”