The Sundance Film Festival 2009 opened on Thursday night with an Australian clay animation feature, “Mary and Max,” written and directed by Adam Elliot, a Sundance veteran and Oscar winner for best animated short in 2004. “Mary and Max” features the voices of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana, Toni Collette and Barry Humphries (a.k.a Dame Edna) as the narrator. Think of it as an Australian “Wallace and Gromit” meets “About Schmidt,” but one painted in dark tones of brown, gray and black. The movie deals with the serious issues of mental illness, death, and depression; it is neither a “Nemo” nor a “Shrek,” since it is mostly a tragedy sprinkled with bits of comedy.
This is the first time that an animated feature has opened Sundance. And with the critical success of the Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir,” perhaps we are at the beginning of a cinematic trend in darker-themed animation.