Written and directed by Adam Elliot, his one and only feature to date and currently ranked #187 on IMDB’s ‘Top Rated Movies’ and also available on Amazon Prime. A tale of friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary, a lonely eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne and Max, a forty-four-year-old, severely obese man living in New York. Voiced by: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bethany Whitmore, Barry Humphries, Eric Bana and Julie Forsyth.
Trying to describe this film in all its grotesque, stop-motion glory, is a difficult thing to do, it’s so uniquely out of the ordinary that you can’t take your eyes off of it and there are few words to express it. Each character looks as though you took an ordinary human then exaggerated one or two of their features to create something completely different and yet still reminiscent of your average human, for instance Max’s ears look like you stole them from Shrek. It’s extremely creative and makes it clear that this film comes from a very imaginative mind, similar to someone might think of Tim Burton’s earlier work. Stop-motion is sadly becoming more rare with the growing technology in the field of animation but it’s timeless, there’s a sincere satisfaction to watching something that you know a group of people have put in tireless hours to create, requiring a deep dedication to the craft and the film. Considering the resurgence in fans of animated film, it’s surprising that this film hasn’t worked its way into the conversation, it’s one of a kind.
As well as being visually impressive, Elliot’s writing is impeccable: it’s hilarious, it’s touching and at times, heartbreakingly sad, all neatly wrapped in a delightfully strange little package. The story itself is entirely odd, that can’t be denied but it makes for some brilliant gems of humour that have the ability to take you by surprise and given the fairly impotent landscape of comedy in recent years, this is incredibly valuable. Not to mention that the film tackles actual issues, it isn’t simply funny, it delves into anxiety, mental health, grief, sexuality and even agoraphobia, and it handles all of them in a respectful and exceptionally relatable manner. You could possibly find something along similar lines as this film in the works of Miyazaki, Sciamma or Twomey but it’s an uncommon genre of animated films with a deeper meaning and when it’s done well, they’re magnificent. It’s unafraid to be blunt and forthright where so many others have struggled and failed, you can’t help but to respect its honesty.
It almost has the feel of a Roald Dahl tale, with added adult themes; it’s accompanied by a beautiful score and a narration that perfectly guides you through the story by Humphries, so much so that you feel as though you know the characters intimately before they say much of anything. This is an indicator of the sheer perfection of the voice work in this film, firstly you can never go wrong with Toni Collette, she’s one of the greatest actresses of her generation despite being persistently underestimated. Collette seamlessly takes over from Whitmore’s initial role of the younger Mary, who is probably the definition of an odd duck but she’s undeniably adorable in her naïve, oblivious and clumsy nature. Then there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman, it was a dark day when the world of film lost his talent, this is yet another example of how incredible of an actor he was, he portrays Max in such a way that he’s almost monotone and yet he’s bursting with personality and a giant heart, his daily struggles are heartrending to watch.
Mary and Max is in the very obscure category of blunt animated films, its design, colours and story hold an authentic and palpable sadness, with a grim view of the world. Pairing the curious and strange child of Mary with the vulnerable but generous Max was a stroke of genius, their back and forth is a delight to watch, with its sharp honesty and brusque humour. This is a story about the struggle of being human, the daily grind and all the crap it has to throw at us, it’s brilliantly clever and completely heartbreaking. This film has a ridiculous amount to offer, so much so that it’s genuine insanity that it’s not referenced by film fans on a daily basis. It may be over ten years old but its truth is something that will be timelessly relevant and become a treasured film for countless fans in years to come.