Superlative craftsmanship but only the earthbound segment is intriguing.
Walt Disney Pictures/ ImageMovers Digital
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Simon Wells
Written By: Wendy Wells
Cast: Voices and actions of Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, Kevin Cahoon, Joan Cusack
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 3/3/11
Opens: March 11, 2011
It's a sad irony that many of us realize how much we need our moms only when they are taken from us, usually by death or serious illness. Most of us do not lose our moms through their emigration to Mars. In Simon Wells's "Mars Needs Moms," one lad who is furious with his mother-but only for a few moments when she orders him to eat his broccoli-wishes that his mom would disappear and that he doesn't need her, though he's eager to connect with his dad who is away on business and will miss taking him to a vampire movie. When the young man, Milo (Seth Green's motion, Seth Dusky's voice), suggests that he barfs on broccoli, a caveat which his mom, Lissa (Joan Cusack) ignores, Milo feeds the broccoli to his cat-who promptly barfs thereby getting Milo busted by mom and sent to his room. Milo begins to miss his mom not when he is forced to remain in his room, but rather when she is abducted by Martians, who had studied the family from afar, sent a space ship to Milo's lawn, and speed her away. But the escape occurs not before Milo grabs onto the ladder and is lifted into the ship as he begins a rescue attempt.
As craft, "Mars Needs Mom" is superlative. For animation, the movie uses "performance capture" via producer Robert Zemeckis's studio, ImageMovers Digital, an expensive process that can be afforded only by the largest studios. The technique involves using human actors, in this case Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler and Mindy Sterling. The voices are one aspect: that's easy. The performance capture involves having the actors go through their motions, which are then mapped to a 3D model allowing the model to copy the same motions as the actor. If you saw "Lord of the Rings" in 1978 you'd have noted an early form of the technology involving the filming of actors, who are then used as models for hand-drawn animated characters.
Awesome craft aside, the segments of "Mars Needs Moms" that work best are the initial ten or fifteen minutes, the piece involving action here on Earth, namely the above-mentioned comical scene with the broccoli. Once Mom and her young son are launched into space, Simon Wells's picture, written by Wendy Wells, runs into this serious flaw: George Gribble (Dan Fogler), an earthling who has lived most of his life on Mars after having tried to save his own mother, is a motor-mouth who listens carefully to the pleas of the new young visitor only sometimes. The rest of the time he babbles like a schizo running at the mouth far too long and is as unpleasant to look at as the movie's principal villain, The Supervisor (Mindy Sterling).
Why the abduction? Martian babies are raised by machines after they are hatched. Some believe there might be a better way but have no experience in mothering. They therefore pick up a typical suburban woman from Earth who will be used to provide sack lunches and bedtime stories for the little ones, but when The Supervisor sees the unwanted nine-year-old alien in her midst, she orders the army loyal to her to destroy the boy. Allied with Gribble and Ki (Elizabeth Harnois), a young Martian woman who rebels against The Supervisor's plan and who causes Gribble to blush by her mere presence near him, Milo will go above and beyond his wish to apologize to his mom for the nasty words that brought her to tears back on the Earth.
Kids in the audience will likely look upon this (space) road trip by identifying with Milo, who, no longer earthbound, flies about in the relative absence of gravity. If they heed the story's message-that moms are nice to have around and who, being only human, will become sad and tearful when disrespected, that's all to the good. And if they eat their broccoli (without barfing), even better.
Rated PG. 82 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online