In a world drowning under the weight of the latest movie-making technology (which if you say it with a deep gristly voice, sounds like the start of a movie trailer), 3D animated movies and larger than life headache inducing cgi robots, it’s a breath of fresh air to find a movie such as Mary & Max.
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I’m a big fan of animated movies. The reason being that i think if an animated movie is done right it can hold a powerful and moving message, more-so than many live-action movies succeed in doing. But they are also, for the most part, a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Some of my favourites being Toy Story 2, Pinocchio, Coraline, Wall-E, When the Wind Blows, Appleseed, How to Train Your Dragon and Up (the only movie to make my eyes leak within the first ten minutes!)
This one's called ‘Mary & Max’, and it is beautifully realised using glorious stop-motion / claymation. For me, claymation is a wonderful media to use for animation, that just feels gentle and organic, almost fairytale-like! It may be that I simply pine for the Harryhausen movies that mesmerised me in my youth.
Its director, Adam Elliot, is the man who introduced us to Harvie Krumpet. Remember him? In 2003 Elliot won an Academy Award for his animated short (20mins) about a man with his fair share of issues and odd tendencies. Search for it on YouTube, it’s well worth your time. More so than those stupid cat clips you keep watching till all hours of the morning! He uses similar techniques and model templates for his latest work.
Mary and Max is one of the most heartfelt movies I’ve watched in recent years, and when the narrator began with the wonderful line “Mary Dinkle has eyes the colour of muddy puddles, and a birthmark the colour of poo.” I knew I was in for a treat!
Characters don’t really interact much in this movie. For the most part we are listening to the narrator, with the other main voices being those of our main characters, which we hear while they write their letters to each other.
Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage, or Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo) beautifully narrates with both the emotion and tone needed to convey the joy and sadness of the story unfolding before us. This is a gentle film which slips smoothly between funny and serious, happy and sad, effortlessly.
We are introduced to two lonely individuals. Mary (voiced by Toni Collette, who’s best movie for me has to be Japanese Story) is 8 years old and lives in a small, quiet part of Australia. She longs to be liked, if not loved. She lives with her alcoholic mother, her father, and her pet rooster. Max Horowitz (voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman - Capote and Doubt) is an obese Jewish man in his 40s living a lonely existence in a New York highrise with his imaginary friend, Mr Ravioli, and Henry VIII, one of a long succession of goldfish. These two wonderfully realised characters exchange letters and gifts over many years, forming a friendship that, despite never having met each other, is deeper than anything either of them could have expected. It’s truly touching. Particularly in how it handles issues that are affecting both our central characters - love and death, mental illness and friendships.
Mary and Max live in a world which, to a greater or lesser extent, has let them both down, but through their friendship they discover a caring human being who feels how they feel. Someone to confide in and someone to share their joys and fears with.
Sadly - not everyone will “get” this movie, but if you want to spend 90 minutes experiencing a (and dare I say it again?) gentle movie that I guarantee will make you smile and sad in equal measures, then I heartily recommend you grab a copy of this little gem.
May 3rd, 2012 - Posted & Written by Gaz Gibbons