Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Global Animated Film Review: Australia- Mary & Max

Fig 1: Film Poster for Mary & Max
Mary & Max is a 2009 Australian stop-motion animated film created by director Adam Elliot, an academy award winner know for his short animated productions such as Uncle (1999) and Harvey Krumpet (2001). Based on a true story, the film focuses on the relationship two titular characters, Mary, a young girl from Australia and Max, a middle aged man from New York have as pen pals over the course of their life. The film goes over numerous themes, such as childhood neglect, loneliness, mental illness,  Autism, depression and suicide. But the use of humour throughout grounds it so that the film isn't so negative, but instead grounded in a more realistic viewpoint.

Fig 2: Mary Daisy Dinkle
The film starts in 1976, when Mary Daisy Dinkle, a 6 year old Australian, who suffered from bullying due to her appearance leading her to have her pet rooster Ethel as her only friend. Curious about America from seeing a New York phone book, she decides to write a letter to one of them, tearing off part of a phone box while her alcoholic mother was caught stealing in the post office. Her letter makes it halfway around the Earth to Max Horowitz, an morbidly obese New-Yorker of Jewish decent who has trouble understanding the world and the people in it which lead him to living a lonely life of dealing with his array of pets.
 Despite Max's anxieties over forming bonds with people, the two hit it off, becoming pen pals for many years. Over the years the two bonded, Mary grew up, got married and was successful in University, while Max grew fatter, was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and won the lottery. For her final dissertation, Mary decided to write a book about Max's condition, hoping to find a way to cure it, however this infuriated Max, who felt that his Aspergers was a part of him and proud of that fact.

Fig 3: Max Harowitz
The two fell out of contact with one another, which led Mary down a path similar to her Mother, drinking sherry and falling into such a depression, that almost lead her to commit suicide if it wasn't for her agoraphobic neighbour Len who gave her Max's apology gift, his entire collection of the Noblets, TV characters from a show they both loved. Max had an enlightening experience with a homeless man dropping a cigarette butt that no human is perfect, and wanted to apologise for his brashness towards Mary, and the two rekindle their friendship. One year later, Mary, now with a child of her own, makes a trip over to New York to see Max only to come across his body staring at the ceiling in his apartment, he died the morning she arrived. Mourning the lost of her long time friend, Mary holds onto his hand and looks to the ceiling, which were covered in all the letters that she sent to him.
Fig 4: Two worlds colliding
The use of colour in this film is notable as Mary and her surroundings and the other people in Australia are coloured with a sepia tone, reminiscent of the dry sandiness of the outback while Max and New York is in a black and white tone, even when object of people and in the others world they still retain their colours, Max's apology gift and when Mary arrives in New York for example. This difference in tones can connote the difference of the two worlds Mary and Max live in. The intrusions of objects from one world to the other through out relate to the connection the two main characters are inflicting on each other from the letters they write to one another.
The humour in Mary & Max is notably Australian, black comedy is prevalent throughout the film and is one of the way to deal with the serious topics imbedded in the plot. Australian humour is similar to British Humour in that sense, its self-mocking and can be rather dark, but its relatable and played for laughs.

Adam Elliot calls his works Clayographies, biographies made with clay stop-motion animation, as shown but not only Mary & Max but also in his short films, Harvey Krumpet is a film going through the entire life of a Polish man with Tourettes Syndrome for example. Mary & Max goes into the lives of 6 year old Australian Mary Daisy Dinkle who writes a letter to New Yorker Max Harowitz, from there the two kick of a friendship lasting many years that has its ups and downs. Elliot's motivation for making his films stem from wanting to see stories he wanted to see. The bittersweet nature of his stories is a trait throughout his films and his use of stop motion is one of tactile preference to produce his films, which can take up to five years to make.

While Adam Elliot's is one of Australia's leading figures for animation in recent years the country itself has a very long history with animation, starting with Harry Julius, a new-paper cartoonist who would make topical animated new reels in a series called "Cartoons of the Moment" back in 1910. Felix the Cat, created by Australian Pat Sullivan was very popular during the times of the silent film of the 1920s but was slowly drowned out by the noise of characters like Mickey Mouse. Despite the market for animation being dominated by the American Animation Studios, Australian produced animations do receive World wide success, like the animated series King Arthur and the Square Knights of the Round Table (1972) produced by Airs international Studios, Yoram Gross' mix-media film Dot and the Kangaroo (1977) through to digital works like Happy Feet (2006) by George Miller.


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