[Figure 1.40] A scene from Mary and Max. (© 2009, Adam Elliot Pictures.)
Riding the wave of this success, Elliot would spend the next 5 years crafting his first feature-length film. Mary and Max
is recognizable as the same signature style of his previous films, but it is brought to a whole new level of beauty, storytelling, art, and technique. The story tells of a pen-pal relationship between Mary (voiced by Toni Collette), a young girl living in Australia, and Max (voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman), an obese Jewish man with Asperger’s syndrome living in New York. They continue writing letters back and forth as Mary grows into adulthood and Max goes through a series of personal trials, ultimately moving toward a beautiful, touching conclusion. Like his earlier shorts, the film is dark, sad, poignant, and hilarious, all at the same time. Elliot drew from many personal experiences writing and directing the film, basing it on a real pen-pal relationship he had and his thematic exploration of people who are different. The film was shot with Stop Motion Pro software interfacing with digital SLR cameras by a talented production crew that included six animators and about 120 other artists and technicians. Hundreds of tiny props, puppets, and sets were hand-crafted for the film, and according to production facts from the U.S. press kit, more than 7,800 muffins were consumed (5,236 by the director). Mary and Max
opened the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, which was a first for both Australia and feature animation, and really helped to push the animation medium to a higher level of acceptance by the film industry.
[Figure 1.41] A scene from A Town Called Panic. (© 2009, La Parti Productions.)
Panique au Village (A Town Called Panic) is yet another stop-motion feature that has recently toured festivals and theaters, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival. Based on the TV series of the same name by Stephane Auber and Vincent Patar in Belgium, the aesthetic of A Town Called Panic (Figure 1.41) deliberately resembles tiny, old-fashioned plastic toys moving crudely and erratically through miniature clay sets, and typically features fast-paced gags and hilarious slapstick. The main characters of the series and the feature are housemates Cowboy, Indian, and Horse. In the feature, Horse falls in love with his music teacher, Madame Longray, and Cowboy and Indian wake up remembering that it is Horse’s birthday. They frantically decide to make him a barbecue as a present, which results in the destruction of their house and a series of adventures involving a giant robotic penguin and a family of underwater sea creatures. The crude nature of A Town Called Panic, developed by the directors when they were art students, is completely at odds with the more carefully crafted films it shares the screen with, but that is half the point. The wacky French dialogue, jittery animation, and lightning-fast pacing of the film and its bizarre story make it a fun ride (and incredibly funny).