In a pleasant surprise, Mars Needs Moms actually entertained me. I mean, there’s the bright colors and exceptional 3D, but there’s also some touching moments and grown-up wit. Disney and ImageMovers Digital have stretched the envelope with this animated family adventure, in theatres everywhere on March 11.
Mars has a secret life just beneath the surface; a matriarchal society that hatches its young every 25 years. The Supervisor (voiced by Mindy Sterling) rules with an iron first. The females run everything, comprising a huge security force. But that means they don’t have the time to raise the new batch of alien babies. They have a system though: they steal good moms from earth, then suck out their mothering skills (alas, they don’t survive this process) and program those skills into an army of “Nanny-bots.” The male babies all get dropped down the trash shoot to live in the garbage sub-strata. Oh, and the males are all idiots that can’t talk and just jump around and laugh. That’s why the Supervisor got rid of them long ago (and the concept of the family).
Milo is a little boy who hates to eat broccoli and thinks his mom makes him do everything. Milo (voiced by Seth Green) comes to understand how important his mother is to him when Martians abduct her because Mars needs moms. Jumping on board the spaceship, Milo finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime. He gets help on Mars from Gribble, a fat, developmentally-challenged 30-something guy who got stuck stranded there after a similar situation. Voiced by Dan Fogler, the character provides more hinder than help, but offers a lot of comic relief. And Mom is voiced by the ubiquitous Joan Cusack, a talented voice actress most may recognize as Jesse from Toy Story 3.
The animation at first distracted me, in a bad way. The 3D effects looked great, but the animators were going for a realistic look, leading the human characters to basically look like CGI versions of themselves, which looked strange. Because Cusack is so recognizable, the CGI version of her looked creepy since it was always a little off. The typical problems with “realistic” CGI were there (think video game people), and during the first ten minutes I sat there wondering why they just didn’t go with a live-action film, and then animate the aliens?
ImageMovers Digital (makers of Monster House and Polar Express) used a cutting-edge digital animation technique which is pretty fascinating. The voice actors didn’t just sit in a little booth and read their lines. Every scene, including the action scenes, is actual footage of the actors doing those things (only wearing strange get-ups with dots all over their faces). Once the CGI guys get a hold of that and convert it into animation, audiences are treated to a very realistic effect. But, like I said, not realistic enough to not notice something is off.
The aliens were a little disappointing to, as they were just an amalgamation of a bunch of different popular alien film archetypes and not very original. Not that I need my animated characters uber cute, but with the realistic animation utilized everyone and everything just looked a little ugly. Also, there is a simplicity to the sci-fi elements that is almost counter-intuitive. I mean, it’s a sc-fi film based on another planet and taking place among a race of aliens. That being said, it all felt very relatable. As if the story would have worked just as well on earth, among an exotic tribe of humans. So the sci fi elements seemed to me, at that point, superfluous (ok ok, but still cute).
Luckily, the story elements strengthened as the film progressed. At first, the whole Martians-abducting-moms things seemed juvenile and ridiculous. I wasn’t sure how that scenario could bolster a nearly two-hour film. But as the story progressed, and the characters became more likeable and believable, things started working. The film was inspired by a children’s book by cartoonist Berkely Breathed, who came up with the concept after experiencing a moment involving his own child of rebellion and broccoli.
Simon Wells directed the script co-written by him and wife Wendy Wells. With plenty of creative heavy-weights behind this film, Mars Needs Moms is sure to wow the kiddos. The adults, in a nice turn, won’t suffer too much. It may not be Toy Story 3 or How To Train Your Dragon, but it’s an animated film worth seeing that should hold the attention of both children and adults.