Thursday, 18 January 2018

Review: Mary and Max (2009) by Adam Elliot (Australia)

Figure 1 - Mary and Max (2009)

Mary and Max is an animated drama set in 1976 by the director Adam Elliot. The film focuses one a very unlikely friendship between two pen-pals who both have their own levels of instability. It follows Mary, a child from Australia who's parents are mostly non existent, particularly with her mother, who is an alcoholic. It also follows Max, a 44 year old man from New York, who has Asperger's syndrome and has no friends. The narrative watches both Mary and Max develop a strong friendship via the use of letters and packages to communicate, and how they come to meet at the very end. Mary and Max is narrated by Barry Humphries who uses language very similar to that of the characters within the film, very to the point. The film also features many themes of friendship, mental health and family throughout. 

The core premise of Mary and Max is debatable, but its most obvious is friendship and more specifically, companionship. ''We learn a lot about their overlapping enthusiasms, including Max's five favourite words (ointment, bumblebee, Vladivostock, banana and testicle, for the record), and the deep yearnings for companionship which make the successful delivery of each letter a heart-in-mouth business.'' (Robey, 2010). The relationship between both Mary and Max never once makes the audience feel uncomfortable. Both characters are presented as completely innocent and unable to comprehend the talent of human interaction. Therefore, throughout the film the audience is presented and filled with raw and genuine emotion. This genuine emotion is what builds the foundations of what happens later in the film, Mary's suicide attempt. The film is very frank when presenting the topic of mental illness. The audience see's both Mary and Max's entire life, through their eyes. Therefore, whenever Max has a panic attack or when Mary contemplates suicide, the audience understands. Later in the film, we watch Mary grow up and progress to university. Creating a thesis on ''the conditions of the mind'' makes their friendship fall apart. Whilst learning more about Max's condition and wanting to cure it, she was forgetting who Max was and focused on defining him by his illness, rather than accepting that that is part of what makes Max who he is. This is a strong message to represent and a very relevent one. These themes challenge the current stigmas related to mental illness and could even be challenging to watch for some people. 

Image result for mary and max
Figure 2 - Mary and Mary's Mother Designs by 12Field

Mary and Max was produced by Melanie Coombs and directed by Adam Elliot in 2009 after he won an Oscar for his previous film Harvie Krumpet which was made in 2003. In an interview with Animation World Network, he said: ''After Harvie Krumpet, I wanted to tackle something longer and meatier, I wanted to push the boundaries of feature animation, provide audiences with something new, something with a balance of light and dark, something Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks wouldn't dare touch.'' (Desowitz, 2009). The soundtrack for the film was created by Dale Cornelius who is known for his work on Backtrack (2015) and The Doctor Blake Mysteries (2013). Craig Fison was the art director for Mary and Max and the film was animated using stop motion. ''Stop-motion animation is a technique used in order to make characters appear to move on their own. The characters are moved in very small increments and are photographed. Each frame is then put together to create a moving picture. (Jeanmendoza, 2011).

The use of stop motion animation withing Mary and Max was used very effectively in the 'childlike' portrayal of both characters. Animation is generally associated with children, and within the film, both Mary and Max are quite innocent and childlike beings. Innocence also comes with the childlike aura of the film, even though it focuses on very adult situations and feelings. ''The most unexpected and powerful element of Mary and Max is the utter frankness with which it discusses mental illness. Max's Aspeger's is referred to as a disability, but the film never judges him for it.'' (Todd, 2015). In this quote, Todd explains that the film never judges Max for his disability, which is a relation as to how children are not born to judge, they are innocent and caring, much like the emotional and childlike look of the film. 

Figure 3 - Mary and Max (2009)

From the release of Mary and Max it received a flood of positive reviews and rankings. The film got 95% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and Jeff Giles from Collider said ''this movie is an act of tenderness that will linger long after the closing credits roll''. The film grossed $1,444,617 within the Australian box office but never received a full theatrical release in the USA. Instead it played at a range of film festivals across America.


Buckmaster, L. (2018). Mary and Max: rewatching classic Australian films. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
Desowitz, B. (2009). 'Mary and Max': Elliot and Clayography. [online] Animation World Network. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
Giles, J. (2018). MARY AND MAX Review. [online] Collider. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
Mendoza, J. (2011). Lomography - Stop-Motion Animation: Mary and Max. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
Pulver, A. (2018). Mary and Max – review. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
Todd, A. (2018). Love Yourself First: Mental Illness In MARY AND MAX. [online] Birth.Movies.Death. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
ILLUSTRATIONS: (2018). 12Field Animation Studio – MARY AND MAX. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
Newbutt, N. (2018). Exploring an Autism Condition in “Mary and Max” | animationstudies 2.0. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].
Shanley, H. (2013). Mary and Max (2009) - A Good Movie to Watch. [online] A Good Movie to Watch. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

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