Common Sense Note
Parents need to know that this stop-action animated drama is not for young children. Although the style of animation is popular in movies like Fanastic Mr. Fox and Coraline, this film-festival-hit indie isn't appropriate for single-digit-aged kiddos. There are the far too many grown-up themes, including sexuality, substance abuse, body image problems, severe depression, Asperger's diagnosis, and suicide. Many of the characters drink and smoke all the time, and the protagonist pen pals (who are eight and 44 when the movie begins) discuss everything from how babies are conceived to bullying to loneliness to atheism. Ultimately, this is a completely unsentimental but beautiful look at a highly unusual, inter-generational, long-distance friendship, but it's best for mature teens and parents who know that sometimes the unlikeliest people can become your best friends.
There are no overt depictions of sex, but there are many allusions to it. Dogs are shown "playing piggy backs"/ mating. Mary asks Max if he has ever done "sexing" and describes how a girl explained "making babies" to her as two naked people rubbing up against each other. Mary thinks babies are "found at the bottom of a beer bottle," as her grandfather told her. Max is attacked with kisses by an aggressive flirt. A couple is shown kissing passionately. Max says that he worked in a condom factory but has never used a condom (it's clear he's a virgin). Mary marries and pounces on her husband before the screen goes dark, during which a bed squeaks and her husband repeats "Oh, Mary!" In one shot, Max is briefly naked (he's narrating a dream). Mary's husband hides his homosexuality.
The movie includes several deaths, most of which are treated humorously (Mary's father is swept away while fishing; her mother confuses a bottle of sherry with a bottle of toxic formaldehyde; Max's A/C falls out the window and kills a mime, and his pet fish keep dying in extravagant ways), but a couple of the deaths are disturbing. Max's mother shoots herself (you don't see the act, but you hear the gunshot and see him as a grieving six-year-old). One of the main characters also dies, and it's a heartbreaking scene. Mary attempts to commit suicide, and Max has many anxiety attacks that land him in an institution where he's given shock therapy.
Max recalls being teased by a group of gentile boys who yell "Jew! Jew! Jewboy! Jewboy!" and beat him up; Mary is ridiculed relentlessly for having a scar on her forehead that looks like "poo." One bully at school grabs her lunch and urinates on it.
The overwhelming positive message is that even two of the loneliest people on earth can find a true, lifelong friend. The kind of friendship that Mary and Max form is based on total honesty and trust and mutual admiration. But it's also a mixed message, because it's probably not advisable to allow elementary schoolers to correspond with adults they've never met!
Mentions of Earl Grey tea and Baileys Irish Cream.
Drugs / Tobacco /
Mary's mother is an alcoholic who drinks herself into oblivion every day. She drinks sherry wine but tells Mary it's a special tea she's "testing." Mary's father drinks Baileys' Irish Cream every day, but he's not described as an alcoholic. Many, many people smoke cigarettes, and Max's hobby is to collect cigarette butts that litter the city. Eventually Mary herself becomes kind of boozy and also takes a handful of valium. In one scene, a '70s hippy is smoking a joint on a bench.