— by MARIUSZ ZUBROWSKI —
The opening scene of “Mary and Max” is one of abandonment. Furniture, grills and shoes are all discarded along the black-and-white streets. This sets a general theme for the film, as we are introduced to Mary Daisy Dinkle, a lonely young girl who grows up in a broken home.
Her mood-ring, another symbol of the film’s mature themes, shines grey, and according to her chart, that means that she is in a ghastly mood. Grey is also the most common shade in the film, of which includes mostly white, black and grey.
The film is proposed to be based on a true story, and it follows the coincidental relationship between a socially-inept older gentleman, and the young girl that doesn’t get any attention from her parents and gets teased at school. This relationship lasts for 18 years. Adam Elliot’s “Mary and Max” is intended for adults and it marks a growing trend of smart animation for the older demographic.
We are introduced first to Mary Daisy Dinkle, who lives in Australia with her mother, her father and her rooster. Her only friends — besides her rooster, which her father found abandoned after it fell off a truck that was destined for a slaughter house — are her homemade dolls, which she makes out various objects including cartons.
Her mother is a drunk and calls her an “accident,” but she stills borrows the poor Mary on trips to the grocery market, where she slips unpaid goods into her dress to “save money on plastic bags.” Her father works in a factory and puts the strings on tea-bags. He spends more time at his taxidermy shop than he does with his daughter. Her grandfather, in an attempt to retaliate for Mary being called an accident by her own mother, tells Mary that are children are found on the bottom of beer kegs, and this sparks an interest in Mary, to which she later shares with a pen-pal that she discovered in one of her mother’s “borrowed” phone books.
Max Jerry Horovitz is a “complicated soul.” Max doesn’t have any friends, just like Mary. He was raised Jewish, but relinquished his faith. His socially inept nature leads him to overeating, and he joined an over-eaters anonymous class to get better — where they preach that “God hates fat people.” Max’s “mental disability” has prevented him from getting any friends apart from his fish, his snails, one cat and an imaginary friend named “Mr. Ravioli.”
The story, at most times, is narrated by Barry Humphries, who does a phenomenal job of maintaining humor throughout dark and mature themes such as suicide, mental illness and identity. Most scenes show the exchanging of letters between the unexpected pen-pals. The other scenes show the psychological changes that these letters bring (for better or for worse). Phillip Seymour Hoffman is unrecognizable as the voice of Max, and Bethany Whitmore (as young Mary) and Toni Collettte (as adult Mary) are equally excellent. Eric Bana and Renée Geyer also contribute voice-talents to minor characters.
Presentation is dark and it succeeds in setting the dramatic tone. Max’s scenes are presented in simply black-and-white to symbolize Max’s adult problems, whereas Mary’s more childlike problems are represented in her scenes with dabs of tan and dark yellow scattered throughout. This “stopmotion claymation” is visually impressive.
“Mary and Max” is a surprisingly emotional and thought-provoking film. The characters, which are voice-acted magnificently, are instantly likeable and the humorous dialogue prevents the film from turning into a shameless tearjerker. Adam Elliot’s “Mary and Max” is one of the most satisfying animated films in a long time, and it should be used an example for future movies.
As a bonus, here’s a clip from the movie:
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I do love the voice work.