Sunday, May 4, 2014

Owen & Friends

For weeks people have been sending me a New York Times story about a boy named Owen who was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. After many years in virtual silence his father was able to draw him out with a puppet of "Iago", the parrot from Disney's ALADDIN. From the time of his diagnosis on, his main outlet was watching Disney videos, including titles from the era when I worked there as a supervising animator. After sussing this out, his family found they had a way to connect with him that enabled them to renew their relationship. Among his favorite characters were the sidekicks, including ALADDIN's "Genie" (created by the incomparable Eric Goldberg), "Iago", Cogsworth (from BEAUTY & THE BEAST) Duncan Marjoribanks'"Sebastian" the crab from MERMAID and Nik Ranieri's "Lumiere" (also from BEAUTY). This CBS SUNDAY clip encapsulates his story and after reading about this for weeks I have to say it is very moving to see Owen and his family elaborate here on this unique form of therapy.

Of course the movies themselves were the work of many people, not the least of which include stellar voice actors like Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried, Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers.  The scenes of "Iago" here are ones I did and the ones shown of "Cogsworth" are mostly by Mike Show, who worked on the crew of that character along with me and Tony & Tom Bancroft (also both on "Iago" with me and also Brian Fergusson). Our Key Assistant on both movies was my talented friend Nancy Kneip who supervised cleanup along with Julliet Stroud-Duncan Marianne Tucker, and Bill Thinnes .

As the clip shows, Owen is a young adult now, functioning despite his condition, thanks to his patient and loving family who embraced the concept of letting him indulge in the cartoons he loves. Now he uses the same love of Disney movies as part of a therapy club for similarly diagnosed people in his peer group. Owen's favorite heroes tended to be the sidekicks, and to this sidekick animator, Owen is quite a hero himself.
Iago & Friend 2014
Thanks to friend and collaborator Tony Bancroft for sending this story to me via FaceBook.


Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for sharing this video. I am deeply moved by the fact that Owen's working with his affinities helped him to build confidence and relationships with other people... not to mention that animation artists could be a part of it.

I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in my teens, though in earlier childhood, it could easily be mistaken for classical autism. My symptoms were much more subtle, but there were clear parallels to Owen's. I can testify to the fact that being able to work with an affinity, rather than scolded away from it, is one of the most important things -- if not the single most -- to an autistic child's growth. I often drew logos and such for the movies I was dreaming up, but I didn't get to doing funny drawings, and using them as a way to amuse others, until a teacher's assistant in my second-grade class insisted that I try it. I can't think my family and mentors enough for their care and support through those years.

And as much as all of us should strive to be the hero on some level, I liked how Owen described the role of the sidekick -- to help others. That, too, is an incredibly noble sentiment.

Patrick said...

Those Characters are a wonderful therapy to me too!!"chapeau bas" to all the animators who made them who they are

Ignacio Ochoa said...

Hi Will.
Some time ago I do not visit your blog. And now I find this wonderful post. I always think in viewers when I am working on a animated shot, but I never though in viewers like Owen. His story is so inspiring. You know, I´m involved on puppets too a few time ago, and to hear the history of Yago's puppet was great too. This things make more brillant your work and your lot of hours drawing and drawing. Congrats! Thanks to share it. A warm hug from Argentina.