Mary and Max opens with a childlike narration. Mary is a little girl living in Australia, dealing with her alcoholic, shoplifting mother and disinterested father. The film effortlessly instills the idea that this is a child’s mind; the reasoning and logic could be nothing else.
Then there is a Max, a lonely New Yorker with an overeating problem, lonely and well aware of his world. He hates it. He doesn’t like people leaving cigarette butts on the ground, and has panic attacks with just the thought of a conversation.
Oh, and they’re animated.
Director Adam Elliot and his stop-motion animators do an incredible job bringing these characters to life. Their ups and downs, emotions, and interactions with others are truly outstanding. This is a story of two penpals who randomly connect as Mary sends a letter, and end up changing each others lives, even saving them.
They feel real, as if they could exist down the street. The seemingly limitless small details make them believable, Max born Jewish but dropping his faith as he grew older. He has a stack of books in the corner, the bottom ones focused on religion all dusty, and at the top, the newest ones are based on theory and atheism. The mixture of dramatic humor is incredibly involving.
Through the course of the film, you become immersed in their world, their problems, and their accomplishments. They grow and open up, all based on a chance encounter. Mary and Max have their own problems, yet they are similar and can relate to each other. How they do so is the crux of the movie, the audience watching Max evolve around his mental condition, and Mary grow up into a young woman. It feels poetic in a way (Barry Humphries’ narration certainly adding to that element) and ends on a somber yet happy note, a perfect finish for a story that begins on nothing more than a casual letter.
Mary and Max is a perfect Blu-ray. It was shot digitally, yet carries none of the negatives conducive to the format, but all of the positives. Clarity is remarkable, delivering an image with no noise, and tremendous dimensionality. Sharpness is firm, never dipping below perfect. It carries such immense detail, it looks as if you are live on the set, viewing every frame as it happens.
It starts early, a shot of the house at 1:29 delivering extraordinary detail and texture, a lofty expectation that the rest of this disc lives up to. The puppets all carry a bit of texture on their faces, some small bumps either by design or because of the process during their creation, and they are always easy to discern. The New York set is brilliantly rendered, appearing to be comprised of miles of miniatures at 51:22, a wholly convincing effect, aided by tremendously deep black levels and high-end detail.
It’s almost impossible to give the disc enough credit for resolving the most minute of textures. Grains of sand become eye candy at 1:00:48, and a simple can is loaded with metallic specks at 1:11:58. Whatever animated tricks are tossed on screen, this AVC efforts handles them like they are nothing. From small bubbles in the water to the flowing grass outside Mary’s home, it’s all visible and distinct.
The movie carries two prominent palettes. Max’s city dwelling is purely black and white, with the smallest hints of color. Whites are pure, and the blacks are consistent. It doesn’t get much richer than the night sky. Mary’s world is tinted in fall shades, bits of brown and orange making up her corner of the planet. Reds, generally lips, are the only color to gain any real attention.
There were two noted flaws, both less than a few seconds. Some banding is noted at 48:02, and aliasing is evident on the clothespins at 30:07. When those are the worst things you can say for a transfer, you’re onto something.
Mary and Max actually contains quite a bit of audio pleasantries, including a great bit of immersive surround use at 1:20:00. As the camera swivels around, so does the music, instruments popping up in a specific channel along with any lyrics. It is tremendously effective, and critical to how the scene works.
The movie contains a number of clever audio bits, including some glass breaking in the right surround as a character falls off-screen at 36:20. The subwoofer generates some great LFE action, including the hum of electricity at 43:50, and a loud, booming jolt at 1:16:50 as an air conditioner falls out of the window.
Barry Humphries’ gentle narration is replicated perfectly, and the sweet innocence of Bethany Whitmore as she voices young Mary is likewise preserved beautifully. Everything is in balance and superb, an unassuming mix that surprises more often than you would think.
Director Adam Elliot delivers a commentary, and one of his earlier shorts (Harvie Krumpet) is included as another bonus. A making-of is more of a collection of behind-the-scenes incidents or random occurrences, the behind-the-scenes featurette more of what you are likely looking for (lots of great footage of the miniatures here). A casting call is a read by Bethany Whitmore, followed by a trailer.