Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Review: "Mars Needs Moms"
"Mars Needs Moms" is the sort of movie that will be enjoyed by small children and endured by their parents. It feels like an amalgamation of other films' styles and storylines, assembled by a marketing department bent on hitting a demographic sweet spot rather than artists following their muse.
It's also the sort of movie that you need only watch the two minutes of its trailer to know what's in the other 86. An Earth kid named Milo watches his mom abducted by Martians, tags along as a stowaway, gets into all sorts of scrapes with the funny-looking aliens, befriends a human rapscallion living in the Martian junkyard, and Life Lessons are duly imparted.
This film held zero surprises for me. I knew everything that was going to happen before it did, right down to the big emotional scene near the end when Milo's mom shows the sacrifices a parent is prepared to make for their child.
It's a nice moment, but it's never a good thing when the audience knows exactly where a movie is going, and waits impatiently for it to arrive.
"Mars" is being released by Disney, but it was actually made by Robert Zemeckis' motion-capture studio. Zemeckis, a highly successful director of live-action films like "Forrest Gump," famously switched to computer animation with live actors performing their scenes in special suits, which animators then paint over
I'm all for new technological toys, as long as they're used in the service of telling a story. Motion capture gave us the triumph of Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but I can't really see what it adds to "Mars."
Milo spends most of his time bouncing around in the lighter gravity of the red planet, navigating the tubes and tunnels of their underworld, so a photo-realistic depiction of how a real kid moves isn't even appropriate.
And here's a curious thing: The movie "stars" Seth Green as Milo, because he performed the actions in front of a green screen for the motion capture, but a child actor named Seth Robert Dusky provides the voice. So who really "played" Milo?
If nothing else, this film will force the Screen Actors Guild to revisit their bylaws.
Joan Cusack plays his harried mom, who looks almost exactly like Joan Cusack, which isn't too much of a stretch since she was born to play a cartoon. Dan Fogler plays Gribble, a well-fed human tech nerd subsisting in the Martians' vast subterranean trash cave.
Mindy Sterling is the Supervisor, the stern and very wrinkled leader of the Martians, who resemble humans with extra-wide hips and oval heads like Stewie from TV's "Family Guy." The Supervisor spies on the Earth looking for especially stern mothers, whom she kidnaps so can zap the disciplinarian juice out of them, or something, which she then uses to program the robot nannies who raise Martian babies. (Well, half of them anyway...)
It's a strange world, and one I didn't entirely buy -- even in cartoon form. The film is based on a children's book by "Bloom County" creator Berkeley Breathed, adapted for the screen by Simon and Wendy Wells, with Simon directing.
The Wellses find it necessary to have Milo self-narrate what's happening to him, as if the audience can't see for themselves: "I'm on a spaceship!" "A world of trash!" Truly annoying.
The only real light in "Mars Needs Mom" is the character of Ki, a rebellious Martian played by Elisabeth Harnois. Ki is secretly a graffiti artist who talks like a hippie, having learned English from 1960s Earth television.
Whoever drew Ki added a little crinkle to her cheeks when she smiles, and it's like something of pure spontaneous joy escaping from the factory.
1.5 stars out of four