With Mars Needs Moms, Disney and Robert Zemeckis [Monster House, Polar Express] team up to create a kind of CG/motion capture take on the family films that Disney did so well in the fifties and sixties [The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes] crossed with a bit of B-movie science fiction weirdness.
When Milo, the product of two Seths [motion capture by Seth Green; voice by Seth Dusky], gets into trouble for feeding the family’s pet cat broccoli [thereby getting it sick], he tells his mom he’d be better off without her – words he longs to take back when she’s kidnapped by Martians!
Milo manages to become an accidental stowaway on the Martian ship and soon finds himself in the underground lair of Gribble [Dan Fogler], whose mom was taken by the Martians in ‘80s. Why do the Martians need moms? To download their abilities to raise children with discipline – something the Martians seem to value highly. The procedure is overseen by The Supervisor [Mindy Sterling] – and it has fatal results for the moms involved.
Gribble has survived underground since he arrived in the same manner as Milo, so he figures they should be best buddies and stay out of the Martians’ way. Milo, however, has other ideas – he wants to rescue his mom. Gribble tries to deflect him by getting him into trouble, but that comes back to bite him in the butt, and between that and Milo’s determination he is persuaded to actually help.
Meanwhile, the stern old crone in charge has a nemesis who sprays flower graffiti on the civilization’s foreboding architecture. The tagger and the two Earthers meet under extreme circumstances and form an alliance. Her name is Ki [Elizabeth Harnois] and her graffiti efforts were inspired by sixties television shows from Earth – which is where she also learned to speak a hippie dialect of English.
Director Simon Wells, working from a script he co-wrote with Wendy Wells, has created a beautifully designed film that moves well and has humor for all ages – but Mars Needs Mom isn’t strictly speaking, a comedy. There are some very dramatic turns – including a scene near the film’s conclusion that will cause some serious worry. Somehow, I wasn’t expecting anything like that, but it moves the film out of the realm of standard Hollywood entertainment. Because it demands more of its audience than the usual family animated film [it is rated PG], it will likely have a more lasting, positive impact on its younger viewers.
In terms of its 3D, Mars Needs Moms is first-rate, though there is one scene that involves a canyon, where the image is murky because of the dimming effect of the 3D glasses. In fact, the film is generally darker than most 3D films, so I was surprised that the image wasn’t lost more often than that.
Mars Needs Moms is based on a children’s book by Berkeley Breathed [creator of Bloom County and Opus the Penguin], so there is a subversive element to the tale that will naturally appeal to children. That said, the film’s intensity and a few scary scenes make it perhaps a bit too much for pre-schoolers. Overall, though, Mars Needs Moms is a spirited, entertaining movie that is genuinely different.
Final Grade: B
Photos courtesy of Disney Films