Friday, 20 January 2017

World Animation: Australia - Mary and Max

Most popular animated films, if it's CGI animation or stop motion animation, tend to be aimed towards children or a younger audience. However, Adam Elliot's claymation film, Mary and Max (2009), contains more serious themes that are very rarely, if ever, seen in mainstream feature film using stop motion animation, "tackling such un-animation topics such as loneliness, body image, alcoholism, suicide, and Asperger's syndrome, it's quirky, compassionate and slightly seedily sweet," (Parkinson, 2010). This resulted in a film that some may feel is choppy due to the contrast between the serious themes and the cuter aesthetic of the film. However, Mary and Max proves that not all animated feature films have to be happy, cheerful, and made for children.

Fig 1. Mary & Max (2009)

It'd be a lie to say that Mary and Max wasn't an incredibly depressing film. But, the claymation along with the humour prevents the heavy themes from weighing down the entire film too much. If anything, this makes for a rather accurate representation of how much of a roller coaster normal human life is. "Suicide and death are rampant; diseases and disorders are commonplace; drugs and alcohol are necessities; good intentions are read as outright threats and faith is completely betrayed...yet Elliot suggests that Mary's naiveté and Max's Aspergers allow both of them a certain innocence in this world, maybe even optimism," (Cabin, 2010). One, some or all of these themes are most likely present in every single person's life at one point or another which makes this film and its characters relatable, allowing the viewers to empathise with them. Perhaps if an audience was bombarded with all of these themes in a life action film instead of a claymation, it'd be too sickeningly depressing.

The animation itself, while often being associated with children's films, not only contains innocence but also some more morbid, adult themes such as Max's pet fish getting killed (repeatedly), Mary's parents dying, scenes involving alcoholism, suicide attempts, anxiety attacks and mental wards. Somehow, even in its cutesy style, it works. Perhaps the limited colour scheme allowed this claymation to still feel serious while highlighting on important objects, "all of this is rendered in almost completely monochromatic claymation - only occasional colours stand out, such as the red pompom Mary sends to Max," (Pulver, 2010). It also helps the audience see how the world is different  but similar between Mary's brown toned Australian environment and Max's grey life in New York City. The colours definitely feel like they match the locations and characters. Despite it all being made of clay, the camera work was beautiful and the environments were engaging and immersive.

Fig 2. Monochromatic

Another thing that helps lift up the gloom of this film is deadpan, Australian humour. While the film does not make obvious, direct jokes, the sarcasm of the narrator and some of the dialogue between Mary and Max is funny...often because it is the blunt truth or is a normal, awkward situation. It makes fun of every day life and how awful things can be, perhaps poking fun at it is a way to cope with the unpleasantness of reality. It also makes some dirty jokes and it contains quite a bit of toilet humour which all mixes into the blunt, witty dialogue and normal awkward daily life. It is funny because it shows how strange humans are/can be and how absurd and silly life is, "the serious sadness underpinning Elliot's vision only makes the humour work better," (Robey, 2010).

Despite the film having sadness, anxiety, and frustration woven throughout its entire duration, the film was enjoyable and refreshingly real for an animation. This film makes you think about your life, what you've gone through, while also considering the similar struggles that others surrounding you face. It incorporates the awkwardness of everyday human life and makes fun of it, maybe trying to get people to just laugh a little bit about themselves and gain some perspective. It shows that we may have more in common with each other than we may think. Credit must be given to Adam Elliot as it is unquestionably difficult to make clay characters come to life, let alone adding enough heart, emotion and authenticity to them to make them relatable to an audience. Even though this film has flaws, one must remember that one of the film' main themes is 'not everything is, or can be perfect... and that's okay'. It is a shame that this film has not received more recognition, but it is certainly a hidden gem that should be appreciated for its uniqueness and truthful perception of life.

Fig 3. "You are imperfect, and so am I."

Cabin, C. (2010) Mary and Max At: Accessed on: 20/1/2016
Chang, J. (2009) Review: 'Mary and Max' At: Accessed on: 20/1/2016
Parkinson, D. (2010) Mary And Max Review At: Accessed on: 20/1/2016
Pulver, A. (2010) Mary and Max - review At: Accessed on: 20/1/2016
Robey, T. (2010) Mary and Max, review At: Accessed on: 20/1/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Mary and Max [Poster] At: Accessed on: 20/1/2016
Figure 2. Monochromatic [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 20/1/2016
Figure 3. "You are imperfect, and so am I." [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 20/1/2016

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