I’m not that fascinated by contemporary animated films. I love what Aardman Animation does (Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep), but aside from that, most animation of today leaves me yearning for the non-computerized animation of the past…where tedious work was done all by hand to bring to life a spectacular finished product. This is why when a colleague recommended an animated film for adults and older kids entitled Mary and Max, I was highly skeptical. And, boy was I surprised at what awaited me.
Mary and Max is done in the “Claymation” style of animation, meaning CLAY animation. Claymation has advanced since the days of watching Davey and Goliath in grammar school (if you are not familiar with D&G’s stop-motion style of Claymation, don’t worry – it was not worth remembering). This movie’s animation, in addition to the sweet, touching story, is most definitely worth remembering, and even savoring. Mary and Max are both endearing characters that will stay with you for a long time. I do tend to gravitate towards holding “sad sack” characters in higher esteem…Eeyore was always my favorite Pooh character, as well as the Looney Tunes’ Elmer Fudd, and the ever-pathetic Dopey, the silent dwarf. Mary and Max both fall into that category…each being sad, lonely and lost in their own unhappy worlds.
When the movie begins, Mary Daisy Dinkle (just the name alone is GREAT!) is an eight-year-old who lives in Australia and has a father who spends most of his time in a shed behind their home to work on his taxidermy and a mother who smokes and drinks her life away, ignoring her daughter. Mary is a miserable young girl, who gets no advice on life from anyone…when she asks her mother where babies come from, her mom tells her babies come from the bottom of a beer glass. Desperate for answers to some of her pressing queries, she happens upon a New York City phone book where she randomly selects the name of Max Jerry Horowitz to write to, asking her questions, and basically looking for someone who will pay attention to her. Max is an obese 44-year-old who has severe problems with panic attacks and overeating. He finds Mary’s plea interesting, so he writes back, thereby beginning a life-long pen-pal friendship…each turning out to be the only friend the other has. As Mary grows up into a young woman and eventually a college student and then a wife, Max is always there for her to turn to…sometimes causing problems in his life as her notes mention something that propel him into a panic attack. But, the problems always get ironed out and they remain each other’s best (and only true) friend.
The ending is quite bittersweet and really tugs at the heartstrings. And, even though the story is what messes with the emotions, the subtle, delicate style in which Mary and Max are drawn does contribute to the “sad” factor. If these characters were designed differently (in non-Claymation), there would not be the softness or tenderness Mary and Max both possess. Even with more computerized animation that is used often today, characters have a mechanical feel to them, which neither Mary nor Max have. Directed and written by Australian Adam Elliot, who won an Oscar for Animated Short Film in 2003 with Harvie Krumpet, Mary and Max is a treasure that needs to be savored.
The DVD is available for check out at the Niles Public Library!