Mary and Max (2009) (Not Rated)
Do you remember watching that television special at Christmas called "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer"? If memory serves, it still plays every year and is a staple in many families's homes. I can recall the first time I saw "Rudolph"...my favorite part was the abominable snowman. But I realize now what "Rudolph" did in cursing the claymation cartoonists's world. Now every movie since then has been viewed in the light of Christmas, happy endings, and good times. Yet it seems that claymation is the one area of animation that is branching out more than any else. Tim Burton helped this process along with "The Corpse Bride" which was decidedly not a kid's movie. More recent works that prove the genre's creativity are "Frankeweenie" and "ParaNorman"—though both of those are kid's versions of horror.
All that being said, besides "The Corpse Bride" I'm not sure that I've seen a claymation movie that was purposely adult...until "Mary and Max", which we are told is a true story.
Mary lives in Australia with her shattered family. Her mother is constantly drunk on cooking sherry and her father would rather spend time practicing taxidermy on dead birds. Mary's only companion is a rooster that was found on the side of the road.
Mary is told that babies are made when they are found in the bottom of a beer mug. This is the first domino—the rest come in the form of abuse. In the middle of Mary's forehead is a birthmark that is "the color of poo". Not stereotypically beautiful, Mary is always the subject of her mother and her classmate's jokes. She has to ride along with her mother when they go shopping, most of the time her mom "borrows" items from the store and stows them under her clothes. There is an elderly neighbor who lives across from Mary who is afraid of the outside world...or as Mary says: "has homophobia". Mary cares for this man by getting him his mail and he gives her pocket change. But the day comes when her mother calls Mary, in a fit of drunken rage, "an accident". But how can Mary be an accident if she was found at the bottom of a beer mug? Isn't that purposeful?...everyone else says so.
Mary gets an idea—she picks a random name from an American phonebook and writes to that name, asking where babies come from in America.
This letter and the bombshell that it drops lands on Max. Max lives in New York, a dark and frightening place. Max is obese, the product of bullying, Jewish, and an atheist. He reads Mary's letter and immediately dives into an anxiety attack. The slightest trigger can set Max off. When he finally calms down and after several "chocolate hotdogs", Max decides to write Mary back.
So begins the strained relationship between two individuals who are separated by decades in age and thousands of miles in distance.
I'll just get right to the point—"Mary and Max" is stunning. It's the kind of film that every other film would aspire to be like. It is preachy and it is dark, but these are the film's strengths.
Even four years ago, when this movie was released, self-acceptance was not something that was normally tackled in kid's movies. When this subject was brought up, it was always over-emphasized and was too drawn out.
This film is the brain child of Adam Elliot, his debut work. My hope is that he will continue to make movies, he could lead a small revolution.
I think my favorite part of the movie was Dale Cornelius's sensational score, which conveys so many emotions in such a short time.
"Mary and Max" dares to be great, and it is. With its heavily stylized animation and the sometimes incredibly dark themes—this movie takes on issues that seem well beyond its reach.
"Mary and Max" is beautiful, moving, smart, sometime surprisingly funny, and above all—necessary.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones