Director – Frederic Guillaume & Samuel Guillaume, Screenplay – Christine Dory & Emmanuel Salinger, Producer – Robert Boner, Photography – Renato Berta, Music – Bruno Colais, Animation Director – Guionne Leroy, Art Direction – Laurent Baude, Frederic Guillaume & Samuel Guillaume. Production Company – Max-Le Film/Nexus Factory/Cine Manufacture/Future Films.
The young fox Max hitchhikes to Saint Hilare in search of the father he never knew, the troubadour Johnny Begood. Max is offered a place to stay by the teacher Madame Doudou. She sends Max to the Bzzz & Co fly swat factory to find a job. Bzzz & Co is run by the frog Rodolfo, who takes Max on as a beegoodist player in his elevator orchestra. Rodolfo, who has inherited the factory from his uncle and leads an idle playboy lifestyle, has just become aware that Bzzz & Co’s profits are starting to plummet. He brings in two efficiency experts, Martin and Renard, who determine that most of the staff are underperforming and get Rodolfo to fire them. Max is also attracted to local girl Felicy but earns the wrath of the townspeople, including her father, when he is one of the few people kept on at the factory because he works for so little. The wheelchair-ridden frog scientist Martin then sets up shop in the factory and creates a strain of mutant flies. As the flies start killing people, Max and Felicy try to get the townspeople to stand up against what is happening.
This Claymation-animated effort is a rather charming film. Max & Co is a debut feature from the brothers Frederic and Samuel Guillaume. It is a very amiable and likeable film. The character arcs work gently; the sense of humour is not raucous laugh-out-loud but couched with moments of quiet drollness. Especially good is the animation and design team’s creation of a three-dimensional model world, which is exceptional. All around Max & Co is a modest film of considerable charms.
Max & Co naturally lends itself to comparison to the Claymation work of Aardman Animation, the makers of the Wallace and Gromit films. There are a number of similarities between Aardman and the Guillaume Brothers, particularly when it comes to the characters. However, when you place Max & Co alongside an Aardman film, what you notice is the things it doesn’t have. The story could easily operate as a straightforward one in any standard talking animals animated film. Certainly, there are a few eccentric Aardman-esque creations floating around – the postal delivery service that consists of a bird flying a bicycle through the sky and especially the mad scientist Martin and his wheelchair that has a habit of producing spider legs and scuttling up and down walls. While the characters are likeable, what is absent is Aardman’s droll, deadpan sense of humour and their constant visual gags and puns. You keep wishing that Max & Co would burst out with a little more in the way of energy
One of the more interesting things about the plot is its all-but-overt Marxist themes. The story becomes a by-the-textbook depiction of the Marxist revolution – the genial, if ineffectual, frog playboy who is representative of classic indolent bourgeoisie living off the fat of the proletariat’s labour; the modern touch of the efficiency experts engaged in ruthless corporate restructuring; eventual dissatisfaction with management leading to a worker’s revolution; and, in the climactic scenes, the presumed implementation of a new fairer order. Of course, with the addition of a mad scientist to the mix – not to mention a foxy chanteuse designed to inspire the masses – what Max & Co cannot help but resemble (perhaps unintentionally) is a children’s movie version of Metropolis (1927).
Max & Co was apparently the most expensive film ever made in Switzerland. Alas for the Guillaumes, Max & Co was a financial flop in European markets and their production company was forced to file for bankruptcy not long after the film came out.