Occasionally, an animated character appears that changes fundamentally the way we view cartoons, the way they're designed, the way they move around the screen. Such characters — Mickey Mouse, Sheriff Woody, Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny — force response, both from the animated character community and the audience. To me, these characters are justifiably called classics, and I have no doubt that Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Co-op's Max the Meter will someday fit as naturally within that list as Mr. Clean or The Michelin Man.
One ought to be wary of making such claims, but in this case, they're justified at every level. In the area of production, Max the Meter is nothing less than a breakthrough. Max -- with producer Greg Booth, graphic designer Dale Ide and editor Christian Bruncsak, who helped Ide with compositing — is the first character to fuse the spacious clarity of southern Arizona and the raw density of the graphic novel. That's the major reason why the result is so different from 2009's "Meter Miser Measure." On that spot, for instance, individual movements were deliberately obscured to create the sense of one huge spinning electrical meter. Here, the same power is achieved more naturally.
Four years ago, in a Willcox bar, my friend Ned Culver and I watched Max the Meter give a performance that changed some lives — my own included. About a similar night, Culver later wrote what was to become animation criticism's most famous sentence: "I saw animation's future and its name is Max the Meter." With its usual cynicism, the world chose to think of this as a fanciful way of calling Max the Next Big Thing.
I've never taken it that way. To me, these words, shamefully mistreated as they've been, have kept a different shape. What they've always said was that someday Max the Meter would shake men's souls and make them question the direction of their lives. That would, in short, do all the marvelous things inantimate objects brought to life had always promised to do.
It poses once more the question that epiphanic moments always raise: Do you believe in magic?
And once again, the answer is yes. Absolutely.
With apologies to Dave Marsh.