Pocahontas in Space vs. Mary and Max

I realize that it’s due to signatory problems, but the WGA has committed a terrible crime against art. (All right, so that’s a tad melodramatic. Deal.) The organization has nominated the ridiculously stupid STAR TREK and overly simplistic AVATAR for writing awards, while the brilliant little Sundance favorite MARY AND MAX cannot be mentioned.

I saw AVATAR yesterday in 3D at the Arclight. While I found it very entertaining and the visuals Tasered me in my seat*, the story was, as Lord Arux pointed out, a ripoff of POCAHONTAS but with blue-skinned Native Americans. It’s not great writing. It’s a good movie that’s surreal and beautiful to behold. But the writing is totally meh. Every opportunity he had to nuance the characters and motivations was squandered. I kept thinking how Miyazaki would have approached it. We would have gotten to see something far more than a cliché “fairy tale.” (And could we please stop defending overly simplistic, pastiche stories by calling them “fairy tales”?) But then, it’s James Cameron not Miyazaki. Just saying the two names in the same sentence sums up the shortfall.

In its defense, it was really nice to see Science for once being the good guys, the compassionate observers and preservers, while the American Capitalists were the godless bad guys. That I dug. (Although I bristle at anyone characterizing godlessness as being automatically uncompassionate but whatever.) I cared about the characters. Loved the female Han Solo. The grief of the Na’vi broke my heart (although I credit the acting more than the writing on that count). And the alien world was gorgeous beyond description (with which I credit the art director, artists and production designer). But with inconsistencies constantly perforating the story’s universe, it wasn’t award-worthy writing.

What was worthy was MARY AND MAX. You’ve probably never heard of much less seen this incredibly charming stop-motion animation film from Australia. With its sentimental soundtrack including Pink Martini and the London Pops Orchestra, MARY AND MAX has already won a number of international awards. It’s based on the true story of an 8-year-old girl in Australia who randomly writes to a 44-year-old Jewish man in New York and their ensuing pen-relationship over the next 18 years. It’s lyrical, funny, and utterly heart-piercing. The animation is extraordinarily detailed, always a visual feast even though the predominate palette is black and brown. The letters exchanged had to have been real, they were so quixotic and endearing. The voice cast featured Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Eric Bana.

(And, just for comparison, MARY AND MAX has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes while AVATAR has an 82% approval rating.)

The fact that the WGA couldn’t find anything better to nominate really just bears witness to the withering art once known in America as film. The only crime against art greater is that you can no longer see MARY AND MAX in theaters and it’s not yet available on DVD. However, you can catch it on “cable on demand” and other venues. Check the website for details.

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