As the Times relates:
When the documentary director Roger Ross Williams read early galleys of his journalist friend Ron Suskind’s book “Life, Animated,” a 2014 memoir about his autistic son Owen’s breakthrough thanks to his identification with Disney’s animated characters, he knew he wanted to tell the story on film and would have to use animation to do so.
“It was essential,” said Mr. Williams, who acquired the documentary rights to the book from Mr. Suskind. “My whole concept for the film was about bringing Owen’s inner world to life.”
Adapting “Life, Animated” into a movie (opening July 1) that includes more than five minutes of animation with Disney characters rendered by non-Disney animators required Disney’s blessing. ...
As the Gray Lady points out, this wasn't a case of Disney softening its usual corporate policy of robustly protecting copyright, but of a non-recurring, one-time company decision.
"I wouldn't read any corporate policy implications into this," says Sean Bailey, the president for motion picture production at Walt Disney Studios.