In 2003, Harvie Krumpet won an Academy Award for best animated short film. A 22 minute Australian clay animation, Harvie Krumpet tells the heart-breaking story of one man and his battle with a lot of misfortune whilst remaining ever the optimist. Illness, war, old age, disability and loss swamp Harvie’s existence but he never allows any of this to define him. It is a stunning piece of work by director Adam Elliot and manages to explore turmoil and strife in its limited running time. Winning the Oscar not only meant that Harvie Krumpet received the recognition it deserved but it also enabled Elliot to make his feature film Mary & Max. Maintaining all of the charm, cheek and comedy of Elliot’s short film, Mary & Max deals with an abundance of issues from alcoholism, sexuality, death, love, loss, mental health, obesity, pregnancy to the innocence of childhood. It remains one of my favourite animated films and should be seen by children and adults alike. Mary & Max is something of a life lesson without ever preaching and lecturing its audience. It is a glorious animated masterpiece that studies the most unlikely of friendships. We meet Mary in 1976 at the age of 8. Mary is an outsider, teased at school and neglected at home by an alcoholic mother and a distant father. All Mary wants is a friend. When she rips a page out of a telephone directory with the intention of writing to someone living in New York City, Mary makes contact with Max, a middle aged, obese New York Jewish man who suffers from anxiety, depression, Asperger Syndrome and, above all, loneliness.
The two start a distant and unlikely friendship across the world through their letters. The story continues over decades as we watch Mary grow up and Max grow old. Mary’s childhood innocence and Max’s social inept and unique view of the world leads to their strong friendship, which is rooted in a simplistic love of life’s simple pleasures. Mary & Max can be viewed as an expansion of Harvie Krumpet for many reasons but mainly because it shares the same quirks, message and sense of humour. There is no audience I can think of that would not take pleasure in Adam Elliot’s animated gem. The film travels into darker and more depressing avenues than originally expected, reflecting the film’s intention to show the harshness of life. Life is often unfair, confusing and inconsistent, something both Mary and Max (voiced by Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman) learn quite quickly through a variety of experiences. Yet, through their kindness, simplicity and unique outlooks, life is conquerable. Mary and Max, narrated excellently by Barry Humphries, highlights the power of the human spirit and celebrates diversity and uniqueness. At the heart of Mary & Max is the reminder to be proud of one’s individuality and to have faith in your ability to overcome the most violent storms we walk through in life.
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