Mary and Max Movie Review

Sorry when I start this review with a rant but when in the history of movies did someone decide that anything and everything even only slightly animated is being considered stuff for kids and families?

Just look at the reviews here, here and here: in every piece there’s a warning that Mary and Max is not for kids. Well, thank you very much for this warning. Please wake me up, if you started to watch some anime series and movies. Then we can talk. Seriously, this is embarrassing, especially when such assumptions come from reviewers. They should know better.  (Or do they know better but write this because of some narrow-minded audience? Come one, nobody is that narrow-minded…)

In one point they are all correct, though: this is a truly adult story, heartwarming, poignant and bittersweet. The claymation Mary and Max is one of the best animated movies in recent memory and to me it beats Pixar’s Up by a landslide.

The story of Mary and Max starts in good old 1976, when Mary Daisys Dinkel lives a somehow depressing life in an Australian suburbia. She get’s constantly picked on for her looks. Her father is working on a pathetic tea factory job and compensating it solely with his hobby (not the family). And her mother is an alcoholic shoplifter who can’t stand straight even if her life would depend on it. So one day Mary has the idea to pick a random name from a New York telephone book and open a pen-pal friendship. The lucky guy on the receiving end is no other than Max Horrowitz, a 44 year old man who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and is as lonely as Mary.

Awww. Mary is just too cute!!!!1!

Awww. Mary is just too cute!!!!1!

I won’t go too much into details here. Not only would this ruin the fun for you, no it would also probably take ten pages to describe everything in detail and I am too lazy of reviewer J…that notwithstanding the way both characters are brought to life is simply impressive. I think it’s safe to presume we all have our moments of loneliness. And now think of someone who constantly lives like that. Mary and Max really feel like social outcasts. Not because the world is unfair or there’s a cheerleader around but because they and their situations are “different” and “unique”. It’s slightly depressing but almost every time funnily cruel.

Despite their faults (or perhaps because of their faults) it’s almost impossible to not like those characters. Adam Elliott – who won an Oscar for his short movie Harvey Krumpet in 2003 – really knows how to pull that one off. Besides their small and bigger faults that get’s described in detail it’s simply the look of them that makes especially little Mary so damn adorable. Everything about her is unsymmetrical and doesn’t really fit. But when you see those combined elements animated in an eerily cute way you cannot do anything else than wishing to hug her. Max is the complete opposite with his slow way but that doesn’t make him any less likeable with his spot on description of humans and his own strange habits.

Max in his black and white colored set. And no, this is not simply desaturated.

Max in his black and white colored set. And no, this is not simply desaturated.

What makes Mary and Max even more impressive to me is the fact that you can say that about almost every minor character. Everyone has their unique designs which combined with the awesome animation made everything a blast to watch. I couldn’t get enough of this stuff.

The background sets have the same visual quality of detail to them than the characters. To me this movie proves why 3D animation still cannot beat real life animation: in 3D it’s not possible to put that level of detail to screen. The computers couldn’t render it or only ass slow. I especially like the look of New York Adam Elliot realized. The black and white colors accompanied by stark contrasts almost give those scenes a film noir look. And boy you gotta have to see this. It’s amazing. Andbyohtheway: it’s always good to check out the small funny details Elliott added here and there (“Amazing Mono”). I especially started to love the bummer in front of Max’s apartment complex whose signboards go from “Hug for money” to “Financial advice” in the 80s to “Spare your money, I want change” at the end. Besides those subtle jokes this movie’s also full of cruder and cruel ones but which are funny for most of us nonetheless…with the exception for animal lovers perhaps, but it’s a claymation so no animal was really harmed.

Fantastic level of detail wherever you look...

Fantastic level of detail wherever you look...

Of course, even a creative movie as this follows the laid out formula of Hollywood scriptwriting that at one point the plot has to reach the bottom before the characters can climb back to the light, so to speak. And that’s the only thing I am not totally convinced about. You know, the plot reaches the pit because Mary Daisy Dinkel became a student and later wrote a psychological book about Max in order to help him. Max, of course, isn’t too happy about it and breaks off any connections with her. She on her side falls into a deep depression.

You know, although this part is executed really well, I’m wondering why she never told him about her plans. Perhaps Elliott knew about this problem but this is most definitely a mistake if not even an error. Both Max and Mary are big pen pals. They write each other regularly and tell their secrets, dreams and so on. So why did she never ask him? That would’ve been the first thing I’d have done before even thinking about writing that book. Especially when knowing that it’s my pen pal and my only real friend. I am also quite sure that her doctoral father would’ve told her to ask the patient in question if it’s okay to publish the case. It’s normal and mandatory.

But that’s only a minor criticism I have regarding the plot and one you probably can forgive regarding its other qualities. Using any chance to piss off Pixar I dare to say that this error of the plot pales in comparison to the blunder of trying to knit together two completely different movies as happened with Pixar’s Up.

This time I won’t write about the ending. I only reveal this much: the ending totally disregards the happy-flappy ending we know to love and hate from Hollywood, while also managing to end up on a high bittersweet note nonetheless. Well done, Adam, well done.


Mary and Max is a great movie which I recommend to anyone who is searching for something just a little bit different. If you’re even as fed up with 3D animated movies as I am sometimes, this is an even better chance to enjoy something “old style” that does almost everything perfectly.

I seriously hope that Adam Elliot won’t need another five years to finish his next movie.

Animation done right.


  • Really a great movie from Adam, I like the charecter of MAX is awesome.

    Thanks for a nice review.


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