REVIEW: Mars Needs Moms [2011]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: PG | Runtime: 88 minutes | Release Date: March 11th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Gkids / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director(s): Simon Wells
Writer(s): Simon Wells & Wendy Wells / Berkeley Breathed (novel)

“A world of trash … it is awesome!”

And the hippies shall inherit the world—said world being Mars, of course. Ours has already pushed that faction of humanity to the fringes in order to wallow in their pot smoke, unwashed bodies, and ratty hair far from the rest of society. And by we I mean the generalized average of Earth. Not me. I love petula oil and Cherry Garcia.

But when it comes to the new animated film Mars Needs Moms—distributed by Walt Disney but not created by them—hippies are one little boy’s last hope for survival. Directed and co-written by the great grandson of H.G. Wells, Simon Wells, and based on the novel by Berkeley Breathed, the story put forth may be a little too much for young children. Kids will definitely relate to the whole, “My life would be better if I didn’t have a mom,” premise, but after that it gets kind of sad. No one wants to watch someone witness his mother’s death let alone see it twice in one 88-minute span. That stuff can scar. It also might make parents salivate thinking they can use a threat of alien abduction to force young Jimmy to take out the trash.

Whether the film is appropriate for all ages—the ratings board did at least bump it to a PG—does not, however, belittle the cool process used to get the mediocre animation realized. Mars Needs Moms was the last product created by Robert Zemeckis’ harbinger of dead-eyed vessels, ImageMovers Digital. Check out the end credits for a look at the four-camera set-up used to record multiple angles of the motion capture technique. Each actor is fixed up with do-dads and whatzamagigs, miming things out and creating their characters in a white room later painted by the computers. Besides the nonspecific Martians, each performer’s face is mapped and seen through the artifice in the final product. You hear Joan Cusack and Dan Fogler’s voices and you see them hidden beneath the pixels.

No matter how cool this process, though, technology does not make a masterpiece unless your name is James Cameron. If anyone knows this fact it is Zemeckis, the demise of his company speaking volumes on the subject. But I don’t want to be too harsh on the film since I think it works for a specific age group, albeit one perhaps too old to care. The science fiction aspects are cool, the antics of Fogler are funny, and the message of hope does show through. Will kids in their early teens want to see it, though? I’m not so sure since that new realm of ‘I’m not a kid anymore’ makes most stick their nose up at ‘cartoons’, ready for a new world of entertainment with some meat. It is too bad because some things worked for me; they were just unfortunately packaged in an inferior whole.

The premise is simple: a boy speaks the awful words forsaking his mother, regrets those words, watches her get kidnapped by aliens, and stows away onboard their ship to save the day. They abduct her because the Martian supervisor (Mindy Sterling) has removed the concept of family from her planet. Instead of a young alien raised by its own kind, the ruling class of women has constructed Nanny-bots. Boys are exiled by way of the garbage chute to fend for themselves far below the center city citadel as the girls grow-up to become leaders of their world. In order for this to happen, however, a strong matronly figure is needed to mimic. Who better than a human mother that has a child who actually listens to her? Poor little Milo (played by Seth Green and voiced by Seth Dusky), his penchant to behave results in his mother being taken.

These aliens don’t take kindly to intruders and instantly snatch Milo up when discovered. Someone else watches, though, and quickly helps construct an escape. The boy slides down a chute to the garbage heap, engages in the bearded contingent of Martian men dancing at its bottom, and discovers he isn’t the only human on the planet. No, waiting for him is Gribble (Fogler), a ten-year old in the body of a thirty-year old who plays videogames all day, watches and messes with the native population, and invents mechanical friends. A genius with technology, his isolation has made him yearn for human interaction. Milo’s arrival gives him a chance to have a best friend, so he does what he must ensure it. Hoping to appeal to the kid’s baser desires for fun and a lack of responsibility, Gribble attempts to gloss over what will happen to his ensnared mother (Cusack). But we can read between the lines.

Milo discovers he has seven hours with which to save her and hopes Gribble will help. Amidst jokes about Ronald Reagan and Top Gun that play a huge part in his character’s back story while going way over kids’ heads, this selfish brat of a man tries to sabotage what he believes is an impossible mission. But like with any children’s film, a rediscovery of compassion and love finds its way through to get everyone on the same page. Even one of the Martians joins Milo’s cause. She’s already against the current regime, painting colorful graffiti flowers on the stark gray facades of the citadel. Learning English from an old Flower Power tv show, Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) speaks with stoner mannerisms and lives with a code of peace. Getting her on their side is hopefully the final piece to the puzzle of saving Mom and maybe reintegrating Mars for the future.

So it’s a simple conceit at the backbone, populated with a decent set of characters. There isn’t much past the surface to grab hold of, but that doesn’t make the trip completely worthless. Where there are heavy-handed moments of love lost, there are also quieter moments to appreciate. Seeing young Milo immediately regret wishing his mother gone and her silent, sad eyes of response worked for me, as did the reinvigoration of Gribble to realize he could be a help to society rather than a leech on its backside. The mission to save Mom eventually becomes tedious, though, and the comedy vomited forth from Fogler is all that’s left to save us. Sadly even that gets tired and eventually you’re slogging through to get to the end knowing exactly what will happen. The futility of it all rears its head and you wonder why you didn’t just watch Toy Story again.

[1] Gribble (voiced by Dan Fogler) with MILO (played by Seth Green and voiced by Seth Dusky) stars in Mars Needs Moms. ©2010 ImageMovers Digital LLC.
[2] KI (voiced by Elisabeth Harnois) stars in Mars Needs Moms. ©2010 ImageMovers Digital LLC.
[3] (L-R) KI (voiced by Elisabeth Harnois), Gribble (voiced by Dan Fogler) with MILO (voiced by Seth Green) in Mars Needs Moms. ©ImageMovers Digital LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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