MARS NEEDS MOMS (2011)
Featuring Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Joan Cusack, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, Tom Everett Scott, Breckin Meyer, Billy Dee Williams, Julene Renee, Ryan Ochoa, Jacquie Barnbrook, Matthew Wolf and Raymond Ochoa.
Screenplay by Simon Wells & Wendy Wells.
Directed by Simon Wells.
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 88 minutes. Rated PG.
Robert Zemeckis seems to be the last person around who hasn’t realized that movie-goers just don’t like his revolutionary computerized performance-capture animation technique. As much as he’s tried to shove the awkward, shuffling movements, the unrealistic faces and bodies and the dead soulless eyes of his characters down our throats in his last three movies – The Polar Express, Beowulf and The Christmas Carol, the audiences have been resistant to his “new animation style.”
Now, he is even farming out the process. While Mars Needs Moms is produced by Zemeckis and it uses his filmmaking technique, he actually leaves the physical writing and directing work on this sci-fi family film to Simon Wells. This should – at least in theory – seem like a wise person to hand the mantle to a film about Mars – after all, his great grandfather was great sci-fi novelist H.G. Wells. Unfortunately, as we learned nine years ago on Simon Wells’ last film directing assignment – a version of his great-grandpa’s The Time Machine – apparently the storytelling gene did not get passed down the bloodline.
Based on a 2007 kids’ book by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County), Mars Needs Moms ends up kind of shocking in its horribleness. After all, there are some very talented people behind the book and film production and it’s actually not a bad concept in theory – so how did this movie turn out to be as complete a car wreck as it has become?
A sometimes impressively beautiful car wreck – but a complete and utter car wreck, nonetheless.
The one thing I will wholeheartedly give Zemeckis about his technique is that it does create some truly spectacular backgrounds. If he would just learn how to green-screen human characters into these worlds, the work would be truly stunning. Unfortunately, they insist on using the animations on actors and muck everything up. It’s not a good sign that the human characters here seem much creepier and less lifelike than their Martian counterparts.
Mars Needs Moms actually has an exceedingly odd anti-feminist vibe – particularly coming from a movie which is supposed to be championing the importance of women in their children’s lives.
Seth Green does the voice of Milo, a nine-year-old kid who is just a bit bratty and apparently has no relationships or interests in his life other than his parents, particularly his nagging but truly loving mom (played by Joan Cusack, typecast into her stock mom mode.) When Milo gets tired of his mom asking him to take out the trash, he tells her he wishes that he could live without a mom.
Always a big mistake in kids’ films.
Turns out that his family was being watched from Mars and his mom seemed to them like the ideal mother. Apparently, over the generations, all male Martians have been delegated to the trash dumps of their planet. The cities are run by the women; unfortunately, they have lost all nurturing ability. So, when babies are born – they are literally hatched from the ground every 25 years – the Martian women build “Nanny-bots” to take care of the little girls. (The little boys are sent to the dump with the older men.)
In order to create the nanny-bots, the Martians go down to Earth and kidnap a fit mom and drain her brain to teach the nanny-bots mothering skills and discipline.
In the meantime, it appears that the male Martians, even while living in trash and being described by one character as “dumber than a box of hammers,” have learned to become happy and doting fathers.
Like I said, this film has some odd gender politics it is playing out.
When Milo hitches a ride on the spaceship to save his mom, he lands on Mars and somehow finds safety in another boy – now grown up – who came from Earth when his mom was kidnapped twenty-five years earlier and still speaks in a weird Reagan-era lingo. Together with a rebellious Martian woman who has learned all she knows about Earth from a stolen transmission of some bad 60s sitcom and a cutesy robot, they set out to save Milo’s mom and get back to Earth.
On the plus side, the actual Mars scenery is often quite stunning. But the storyline is odd and not just a bit sexist and the actual characters are simply odd looking.
In fairness, these little weird quirks will not bother small children nearly as much as adults. I saw Mars Meets Moms with my eight-year-old nephew and five-year-old niece, and both enjoyed it. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait for the damned thing to end.
Mars may need moms, but what the Earth needs is better family-oriented films than this one.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 11, 2011.