Adam Elliot‘s Mary and Max, which opened the Sundance Film Festival tonight with separate but simultaneous screenings for press and the public, is a very high-end claymation drama in every respect — adult yet sweet, tender but not twee, beautifully written, honest about handicaps and melancholia but full of warmth and caring and a general mood of oddball quirk. Older kids will roll with it (I hope) but it’s not aimed at the conventional family trade, which tends to prefer upbeat formula stuff with far-less-weird characters and euphoric endings.

Mary and Max ends sadly but movingly in a way that animation-claymation has rarely touched. It’s a lot darker, wittier, sadder, dankier, more morose and — this is a key thing — Asperger’s Syndrome-y than I expected, and so I kind of warmed to it early on. It could have been shorter — 70 minutes, say, instead of 92 — but that aside, it’s not at all bad and is actually something I can fully recommend.

Cheers to Elliott (who, I’m told, has a mild Asperger’s affliction himself, which explains some of the authority the film has) and his voice cast — Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Barry Humphries and Eric Bana.

I realize I was full of resistance about seeing this film in previous posts. That’s actually a good way to come at a new film — i.e., expecting very little.