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Review: Mary & Max

22nd October 2010

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Pixar has a lot to answer for.

Mary and MaxSince releasing Toy Story nearly twenty years ago it has set the standard by which all other animations are to be judged: not just whether they have bright colours and funny-looking characters for the kiddies, but whether they have knowing winks and deeper themes for the adults to enjoy and consider and ruminate upon. The studio's latest efforts, Up and Toy Story 3, have really ramped things up in the adult appreciation stakes, confronting death and feelings of inadequacy or uselessness concepts that could only be truly appreciated by an adult audience and doing so with greater aplomb and impact than most sophisticated dramas.

Claymation feature Mary & Max takes this animation for grown-ups idea to a whole new level. It's the story of Mary, a diffident child living a lonely existence in the sepia suburbs of Melbourne who, picking a random name from a foreign phone book, starts a pen-friendship with Max, a 44 year-old, obese Aspergers sufferer dwelling in a monochrome Manhattan. Over twenty years of communication, and in the film's 88 minute run-time, it broaches loneliness, alienation, depression, alcoholism, kleptomania, homosexuality, suicide, pregnancy, Aspergers Syndrome, obesity, sexual harassment, agoraphobia, religious differences, divorce, and many more "adult" issues. But this is no Fritz The Cat. There's no swearing, drugs or sex, none of it is glorified in any way, but neither is it derided nor played out as a bleak morality play. In fact, seen through the eyes of a young girl and an "Aspie" (Max's favourite term for someone with Aspergers), it is addressed in the most innocent of terms. Innocent, but never naive.

Rather these significant and potentially damaging events are met with simple puzzlement or mild curiosity and given the same if not less consideration than other important issues such as funny-sounding words, new ways to eat chocolate, or the odd foibles of the colourful characters around them.

Continuing in the same vein as his four previous shorts Uncle, Cousin, Brother and Oscar-winner Harvey Krumpet, writer/director Adam Elliott draws on direct experience to sensitively demystify a misunderstood affliction in a funny, heart-warming and incredibly personal way. Each and every plasticine character is interminably cute and individual, and is supported by a talented voice cast led by an unrecognisable Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Max (honestly, is there anything this man can't do brilliantly?).

Though some very morbid issues are dealt with, these are counterpointed with innocence, hope and genuine sweetness. An instinctive reaction may be that it is not suitable for children, but the overriding message of being comfortable with your own idiosyncrasies and accepting those of others, the perfect balance of melancholy and humour as well as the heartfelt pathos throughout right up to the heart-wrenching final scene means that it should definitely be seen, appreciated and ruminated upon by audiences of all ages.

Mary & Max is on limited release from 22nd October

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