• Mary & Max

    Released by: MPI Home Video
    Released on: 6/15/2010
    Director: Adam Elliott
    Cast: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana
    Year: 2009
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    The Movie:

    Written and directed by Academy Award winning director Adam Elliot, 2009’s Mary & Max is a stop motion feature from Australia that is set in 1978 and tells the story of a nine year old girl named Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore). She lives in Australia with her father, a factory worker who spends his spare time as a taxidermist, and her chain smoking, alcoholic, kleptomaniac mother. They don’t have much money and Mary is a bit on the awkward side thanks to a birthmark on her forehead. She doesn’t feel that she has any real friends, and so, out of a mix of desperation and curiosity, she one day decides to write a letter to a stranger completely at random. That stranger turns out to be Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an overweight single Jewish man living by himself in New York City. Max attends overeaters anonymous, puts too much stoke into his psychiatrists advice, and has a few personality quirks right off the bat – we see this very early on when we see how he has trouble understanding his emotions and keeping them in check.

    The two start writing letters back and forth to one another and soon develop a strong friendship based on their love of a cartoon show, chocolate, and their shared social awkwardness. As Mary grows up and starts to have feelings for the handsome Greek boy next door, her relationship with Max, who is put into a mental hospital for a stint after a breakdown and then diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, becomes strained, particularly when Mary begins to divert her time to studying and writing about mental illness.

    Smart, heartfelt, thought provoking and surprisingly intelligent, Max & Mary is, quite simply, a wonderful movie. It’s too dark and periodically too twisted to really have the mass appeal of something like the latest Pixar film – it frequently deals with themes of sex, death, religion and loneliness, which are rarely popular topics to be explored in your typical kids film – but this is a picture geared towards a different audience all together. The stop motion animation employed in the movie is cartoonish enough to accentuate the very frequent comedy that that film contains (some of it a bit more graphic than you might expect – lots of bird poop in this movie!) but it doesn’t take away from the heart of the story. Here we have a very effective and emotionally stirring story of two very different people finding something very rare in one another completely by chance and the wrestling with their very different lifestyles to hold onto it. Mary and Max very definitely love one another, not in a creepy way or in anything even remotely resembling a romantic sense, but in a true and innocent way, the way in which good friends love each other. Since they don’t get this from anyone else in their lives – Mary’s family is useless and Max has no interest in a ‘normal’ social life – they begin to put a lot of importance on one another in spite of the fact that they have never met face to face (all of this occurs before the computer age made online relationships possible).

    The film also approaches Max’s condition from an interesting and refreshing angle, portraying him as someone comfortable in his own skin and with his own way of doing things, though understandably perplexed by the often times inexplicable actions of his fellow city dwellers. He doesn’t consider himself broken and as such, pushes back when others want to fix him. The film makes it clear that although he’s unable to necessarily understand common emotions such as love he’s certainly able to feel them and appreciate them. It’s a surprisingly realistic approach to common quirks associated with Aspergers that’s not at all diminished by the animation style.


    MPI presents Mary & Max in an outstanding AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that is absolutely stunning. There’s a bit of shimmer now and then but aside from that, the picture here offers up incredibly impressive depth and detail to the point where certain scenes almost look 3-D. Texture is exceptional – you can count the number of threads in the garments and wrinkles on the characters’ heads – while color reproduction, though intentionally muted for stylistic purposes, looks dead on. There are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts and black levels are deep and strong throughout. It’s hard to imagine the movie looking much better than it does here – the picture quality is amazing.

    Audio options are offered in DTS-HD 5.1 and Linear PCM 2.0 Stereo, both tracks in English, with optional English subtitles supplied. The audio quality here is almost as impressive as the video quality. Surround use is frequent and well timed, with rear channels adding welcome ambient noise and spreading out the effects when the movie calls for it and toying around with the score very effectively. Dialogue is always well balanced and easy to understand, and the subs are there for those who have trouble with Aussie accents. Bass response is tight and the low end is effectively bouncy and strong but not to the point that it ever overpowers anything it shouldn’t. Nothing to complain about here, really, the movie sounds excellent.

    The wealth of extras on this release start off with a feature-length commentary with writer/director Adam Elliot. There are spots where Elliott simply tells us what’s happening on the screen in front of us, which can often times spell instant death for a commentary track, but thankfully this isn’t a constant and it’s quite interesting when he explains where he got his ideas from, how the film was received theatrically, how he and the team made sure they didn’t need to use any digital animation at all in the production, and about his filmmaking process in general. There are slow spots, but overall there’s enough information in here to make it worth a listen.

    Up next is an eight minute Behind the Scenes bit that explains how digital cameras were used to capture the stop motion techniques employed in the film. It’s a fairly interesting look at the technical side of the production but not much more than that. Making Mary & Max is a collection of sixteen minutes worth of ‘video blogs’ that one has to assume were originally shown online, presumably as some sort of promotional tactic. They’re moderately amusing but not really all that informational.

    MPI have also included two short alternate scenes that were taken out and/or chopped for whatever reason (likely pacing – though the supposed alternate ending is pretty surprising) and a quick Bethany Whitmore audition tape clip but more interesting than that is the short film, Harvey Krumpet. Made in the same style and dealing with some of the same themes, this twenty-two minute short earned Adam Eliot an Oscar. This has been around for some time and is easy to find online where the director made it available or on its own DVD with some other shorts and specific supplemental goodies, but its inclusion here is welcome and it’s a nice companion piece to Mary & Max.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s U.S. trailer, the film’s international trailer, trailers for a few other MPI properties, animated menus and chapter stops for the feature.

    The Final Word:

    Beautifully made and wholly touching without ever delving into cornball melodramatics or tugging unnecessarily at the viewers’ heartstrings, Mary & Max is really a bit of a surprisingly dark and just ever so slightly twisted masterpiece. The animation is fantastic, creative and unique while the story is humorous, involving, and remarkably mature. MPI’s Blu-ray release is a winner, with an outstanding high definition transfer, a beautiful sound mix and a load of extra features.

    Click the images below for full size screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      Amazing film!