This was shown during the recently concluded Animation Nation film festival back in Singapore which I missed entirely, and boy was I glad to have managed to catch this here! Mary and Max is an excellent stop-motion animated piece, but more so it has a very intelligent, engaging and moving story to boot, supposedly based on a true story as the filmmakers would like to remind you, that tells of a time when pen-pals existed, something which I think has dwindled in significance and probably taken on in a different form with the dawn of the Internet.
Written and directed by Adam Elliot, Mary and Max is an extremely touching tale hidden within a wickedly dark comedy, about the unlikely friendship formed from the 70s between a young Australian girl and a middle aged American ex-mental patient, both of whom connect almost instantly for being sad, lonely souls with a yearning for some genuine friendship. Each character come with their own quirks, warts and all, but through the manner of baring their souls in the snail mail they write each other, together with little gifts from the heart, it traces the ups and downs that any relationship goes through, always emerging stronger than before.
The structure of the story is simple, giving us through the letters Mary and Max write each other, the entire backstory of their characters. Mary is 8 year old, with a dad working in one of the craziest careers I have seen ever put on film, with a mom who cannot be still because of her constant state of dizziness from her addiction to liqour, with a penchant for shoplifting to boot. And as for Max, he's a 44 year old coasting along quite peacefully in a routine lifestyle, but harbours a very ill mental condition, going into severe anxiety attacks each time Mary asks the most innocent questions pertaining to life and love.
What I totally love about the film, is how each scene comes chock full of sight and verbal gags, that just begs for more than one repeated viewing just to take it all in. It tells you a lot about the labour of love from the filmmakers in stuffing every moment with something to take away from, and something new to discover each time you watch the film, enriching the previous viewing experience. There's also plenty of animation going on in the film, with sequences crafted full of humour each time any character thinks of something, or flashes back in reminiscence, confirming that there is no effort spared in really making this an animated film to remember.
And with its wonderful visuals come the A-list voice cast, with Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman voicing the titular roles with aplomb, with Eric Bana voicing a support role as well. It's a film about the beautifully imperfect, with some really dark moments and that sense of genuine danger set up early, and cutting really close to fulfilment that makes this one gripping tale to sit through from start to finish, especially when the notion of betrayal of trust gets thrown in the picture, and the fragility of friendship when honesty isn't that forthcoming, or that feeling of being unfairly used for someone else's gain to fame and fortune.
I've always been a fan of stop-motion animation, and Mary and Max just reinforces this love for the art form, going to show that there's no need for gimmicks such as 3D, so long as there is a strong sincere story to tell, alongside some top notch animation. A definite on my recommended list, a fairy tale treatment done right and set for adults to enjoy.