Review: Mars Needs Moms

Posted: March 11, 2011 in Film Reviews
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A scene from Mars Needs MomsIn Disney’s latest animated picture, a boy realizes his potential for heroics and the power of love when he must rescue his mother from Mars. If the premise sounds over-sentimental, that would be because it is pretty mushy. Most cartoons include some sort of moral or ethical lesson; this movie ensures even the dimmest or youngest viewer won’t miss the message by repeatedly beating them over the head with it. Their success was confirmed when a four-year-old audibly uttered the lesson in the theatre.

Take out the trash, eat your broccoli—who needs moms, anyway?  Nine-year-old Milo (Seth Green) finds out just how much he needs his mom (Joan Cusack) when she’s kidnapped by Martians who plan to steal her mom-ness for their own young. Milo’s quest to save his mom involves stowing away on a spaceship, navigating an elaborate, multi-level planet and taking on the alien nation and their leader (Mindy Sterling). With the help of Gribble (Dan Fogler), a tech-savvy, underground earthman, and Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a rebel Martian girl, Milo will find his way back to his mom in more ways than one.

The premise of this movie was promising: a boy is forced to work with Martians to save his mom from an untimely end. There are moments that are quite funny, but when even the kids are barely laughing you know something isn’t working.  Most of the film falls flat. The sight gags aren’t very amusing or are played for too long and the dialogue is quite boring. Moreover, they completely miss the opportunity to have fun with the Martians’ speech; instead, we are only privileged to hear their closing conversation. Granted, extensive subtitles would have gone over the heads of their target audience, but simple wording isn’t asking too much. After all, a lot of the success of recent animations has relied on their ability to also entertain the adults that must accompany the kids.

The action is not very exciting with chase sequences that rarely amount to anything and a ticking clock that doesn’t feel all that pressing. If it was more entertaining, this would be less noticeable. In addition, the “coincidence” revealed later in the narrative simply makes little sense, except to imply the Martians are incredibly incompetent and haven’t made any logical advancements in 25 years. Once again, there’s little reason to present the film in 3D, but it’s available in that format anyway. And I’ll never understand why Disney insists on using the same tactics to illicit a teary response from their audiences.

Motion capture technology was used to create the film’s characters, so the actors’ facial features and expressions are visible on the faces of the personalities they are voicing. This goes a long way in bringing the story to life, but it’s not quite enough. Nonetheless, the performers’ vocals are well matched too their animated counterparts.  Green is not new to voice work, having spent several years contributing to the television series Family Guy and his own creation, Robot Chicken. He gives Milo just the right mix of sarcasm and sincerity. Cusack has a very distinctive voice, so when she is upset it’s nice to see her real frown lines. Fogler is also very recognizable and suits his off-the-wall character perfectly.

It’s a mystery why the script excludes the word “alien” from its vocabulary, but they are never referred to as anything other than Martians. There’s nothing very original about them to make a significant distinction from the extra-terrestrials that preceded them. The female leader looks like E.T. Moreover, they behave like Amazons, raising the female children and discarding the males. Their reasoning is somewhat amusing though: the males are too hairy and always want to hug.

Mars Needs Moms is based on a children’s picture book by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley “Berke” Breathed, author of the comic strip Bloom County. The film will probably make a respectable showing at the box office because of its March break release, but word-of-mouth will not likely carry it beyond that week.


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