After seeing Toy Story 3 and enjoying its more mature and adult themes I wondered how long it would take to find an animated film for me to enjoy that was entirely aimed at an adult audience. It only took two days and it was a film that I had overlooked in the past - even with the recommendation of a very good friend. Mary and Max is a 2009 Australian film that uses stop motion claymation. It is a very dark and sombre film with themes of isolation and neglect, suicide, depression and anxiety. It also gives a tormented look at Asperger's syndrome, which falls under the umbrella of autism. It is an exceptionally well done film that hooks the viewer from the very first scene and much credit should be given to the expert use of narration. I knew very little about the film before I watched it and I was shocked when I recognized Toni Collette's voice inhabiting the adult voice of the young heroine. The wonderful animation, the great cinematography and art direction overshadow the vocal talent, which also includes Philip Seymour Hoffman and Eric Bana. The film uses colour very skillfully. While the entire film is drenched in dark colours, the film deftly highlights the differences between Australia and New York City and its two central characters. Mary and Max is a beautiful and harrowing film that blends heartbreak and humour while cleverly exploring dark and mature themes.
The film begins in 1976 in Mount Waverly, Australia. Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a young girl and Toni Collette as an adult) is a lonely eight year old girl who is neglected by both her parents. Her father is a factory worker who spends his time at home practicing taxidermy and her mother is a drunk. Mary has no role models and has unanswered questions about the ways of the world. She has been told that babies are found in beer glasses in Australia. One day she finds a phone book for New York City and chooses an address at random, M. Horowitz, and wants to know where babies come from in America. The recipient of her letter is Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an 44 year old, obese atheist who suffers from an anxiety disorder. The two begin a pen-pal relationship and sometimes go months and years without contact. Mary and Max both long for a friend and Mary has many questions and believes that Max has a wealth of knowledge from his life experiences. Through their letters we learn that Mary is often teased at school and has a crush on her neighbour Damian (Eric Bana) and that Max is part of an over-eaters anonymous group and has been classified as incompetent by the government. Mary and Max thrive when they are in contact and build a friendship that endures in spite of their differences in age and geographical location. Unfortunately their own anxieties and insecurities threaten their relationship and their lives begin to fall apart.
Mary and Max may be an animated film but it handles the story with grace and ease. I was awestruck by how engrossed I was in the film emotionally. The relationship between Mary and Max is presented is beautiful and on the surface it highlights the importance of friendship. Thankfully Mary and Max goes deeper and investigates darker themes. We see how neglect and loneliness have affected Mary and how the lack of understanding of Asperger's syndrome has affected Max. I see part of myself in each character and parts of people I know. The film makes you stop and reflect and I have spent hours thinking about what I saw. It is a shame that most animation geared towards adults is so lowbrow when Mary and Max is proof that an animated film can be as powerful and poignant as live action. If Mary and Max had been made as a live action drama it would have have received much more acclaim and been available to a wider audience.
My rating: 4 stars out of 4.