The film is based on the 2014 book of the same title by the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author Ron Suskind. It tells the remarkable story of how the author and his wife, Cornelia, were able to reach their silent and withdrawn autistic son, Owen, by actively embracing and nurturing in his passionate interest in animated Disney films.
The Suskinds happened upon this method after noticing that a line of apparent gibberish that Owen kept repeating at around age four was actually a key bit of dialogue from The Little Mermaid. Although Owen’s pediatrician initially dismissed the phenomenon as echolalia—the seemingly random repetition of familiar phrases that is a common feature of autism—the Suskinds became convinced that Owen was using Disney characters and scripts, which he memorized, to understand the world around him.
As the film and book recount, a breakthrough moment arrived when six-year-old Owen—having noticed his older brother looked sad after a birthday celebration—walked up to his parents and observed that “Walter doesn’t want to grow up, like Mowgli [the hero of The Jungle Book] or Peter Pan.” It was his first burst of spontaneous and complex speech.