If Amelie and City of Lost Children director Jean-Pierre Jeunet collaborated with Pixar, the work produced might be comparable to Mary and Max, the feature length stop-motion claymation debut forged by Academy Award winning Australian short filmmaker Adam Elliot.
Mercilessly teased for her birthmark by bullies at her suburban Melbourne school, the lonely and precocious eight year old Mary Daisy Dinkle decides that the answer to all of her problems would lie in finding a friend with and from whom she can share her innermost secrets and seek advice.
Finding unlikely inspiration in a New York City phone book filled with exotic names of strangers living on an entirely different continent, she randomly chooses to write to a forty-four year old obese Big Apple resident Max Jerry Horowitz, who at the start of the film suffers from undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome.
Hoping to increase her chances she'll find a new “pen friend” in Max by sending along drawings and chocolate candy, Mary is thrilled and grateful when he not only answers her letter but – friendless and equally confused by the world around him as is she – becomes Mary's very best friend and confidante in a relationship of letters and chocolate that spans decades.
Unwilling to play it the safe sentimental route, Elliot takes a great number of risks in his work which is immediately evidenced by its visual tone of stark, largely colorless surroundings with dominant dark hues. Additionally, throughout the film he fills the screen with some surprisingly matter-of-fact crass bits of humor and some heartbreakingly melancholic twists that never let you forget that you're watching a story that celebrates a human's ability to reach out to another flaws and all instead of an idealized portrait of life.
Nonetheless, the magical sweetness and tender platonic love story of two outsiders in desperate need of one another never fails to rise to the surface regardless of how much sourness is mixed into the film like one of Max's bizarre recipes for meals like chocolate hot dogs that he creates on a weekly basis.
Although it's decidedly not for everyone, this one-of-a-kind effort from the makers of Harvie Krumpet is filled with a love of creative minutia including a zest for offbeat lists and as much attention to detail in voice actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette's dialogue as there is in the art direction that calls to mind some of Wes Anderson's most recent work Fantastic Mr. Fox.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.