cinematographique

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Mary and Max ****

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Mary and MaxAdam Elliot’s creation is an extraordinary feat of animation, with a satisfying story, but whose tremendous potential is limited by minor structural considerations. Mary and Max explores the relationship between eponymous unexpected and disparate pen-pals. Mary is a lonely misfit of a little girl who lives in the shadow of a sherry-addled and negligent mother in a wacky ghetto of suburban Melbourne. She discovers Max when deciding, on a whim, to write an American torn from the phonebook, to inquire about various childhood clichés. Do babies come from the bottom of coke cans in America? In Australia, they pop out of a glass of beer, or so said Grandpa! And Max is an overweight, overeating, Asperger’s afflicted recluse whose charming eccentricities and near-psychotic honesty make him naively accessible to the young girl.

Mary and Max2

These bizarre caricatures are voiced by Bethany Whitmore and an almost unrecognizable Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but the real stars are their stop-motion animated figures, or even more-so, the mad little worlds they inhabit. Oddly, for a film which is largely driven by narration, what makes it most compelling is its visual wit and virtuoso imagery. These are the greatest weaknesses and strengths. On screen, the extraordinary words of Adam Elliot come to life in claymation, perfectly complimenting a deep and compelling bildungsroman. But without the voice-over, it would make absolutely no sense – it is entirely dependent upon that narrative explication. In that sense, it is undramatic, failing to use the tools of cinema to tell its tale. And yet the content of the story is entirely dramatic, conforms to structural conventions, perhaps too closely – the severe down-beat that precedes a redemptive conclusion seems exploitative to just that end. It’s incohesive in the telling.

Mary and Max is an enthralling work, and one which screams out for appreciation on an artistic rather than commercial dramatic basis. It simply doesn’t make use of the medium in the way, say, a Wallace and Gromit can. That sort of animation tells a story which could live and breathe in live-action, and fully exploits the dramatic potential of film. But it is no bad thing that Elliot smashes through tenets laid down by the McKees of the industry. I expect it was entirely necessary, on such a tight budget (for a feature animation); and with a story structured around two friends who never really meet, it makes perfect sense that there be such a discontinuity in the animation. In any case, this is an adult story, with adult aesthetic sensibilities. The sheer vision and power of imagination that explodes on screen make it unmissable. I just hope it makes it into general release, given those artistic inclinations, and perhaps an over-long running time. It should do, following a highly popular screening at Edinburgh and more importantly, a Grand Crystal win at Annecy, shared with Coraline. A big (qualified) thumbs up.

NB: As always, it is difficult to assess art which is a product of cultures out with your experience. There are a range of anachronisms and historical inconsistencies which make it difficult for some audiences to find credible the broad stretches of time the film spans. Which is a shame!

 

Mary and Max, Dir. & Writ. Adam Elliot, Melodrama Pictures, Australia, 2008
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Written by James P. Campbell

19/06/2009 at 21:43

2 Responses

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  1. 8 year old Mary Daisy Dinkle was voiced by Bethany Whitmore, NOT, Toni Collette. This may be the reason why you did not recognize her voice? Toni Collette voices Mary when she is older.

    Sarah

    26/06/2009 at 07:55

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for pointing that out. I was unclear, and meant Hoffman was quite unrecognizable – will clean that up. Hope you enjoyed the film too!

      jpcampbell

      26/06/2009 at 08:47


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