Whenever someone mentions animation in films our first thought is most likely a Disney or Pixar film we saw when we were unable to form a coherent sentence. I personally think of The Little Mermaid where Sebastian sings with a back-up band of undersea creatures. It can be difficult to imagine animated films as anything above a PG rating, and even more so to think of an animated film that can touch upon adult themes for a mature audience.
While you may think an adult animation may border imagery we would find in a sleazy store in a sleazy part of town on the corner of Smut and Obscene, adult animation can actually simply be attempting something experimental or crafting a more complex story than we would find in a “cartoon” movie. I remember one such film I watched over the summer that probably best illustrates this idea called Mary & Max.
Mary & Max is a clay animation film, in the same vein as A Nightmare Before Christmas, but is a far cry from Disney’s kid-friendly attempt at a Gothic aesthetic. The film tells the story of the titular characters, Mary, a young girl from Australia, and Max, a lonely forty-something man from New York City. The two become pen pals when Mary decides to write to a random person in an American phonebook and the two create a friendship that lasts until Mary is well into adulthood.
Yet, this is not simply a heart-warming story of friendship. Mary is verbally abused by her mother and suffers other tragedies in life, such as a divorce and depression. Max is a man who has already been abused by life and is still trying to understand the world around him and deal with the affects of his Asperger Syndrome has on his life.
Essentially, the movie is about what Disney movies never tell kids: that life when you grow up will be hard. There are hardships in life and times when the world will appear to be a minefield, with a danger around every corner. Yet, life, just like the film, is still filled with moments of humor, hope, and friendship.
A quote from the film that best illustrates this optimism in he face of adversity is one that Max writes to Mary in one of his many letters, “Dr. Bernard Hazelhof said if I was on a desert island, then I would have to get used to my own company – just me and the coconuts. He said I would have to accept myself, my warts and all, and that we don’t choose our warts. They are part of us and we have to live with them. We can, however, choose our friends, and I am glad I have chosen you.”