Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Simon Wells
Stars: voices of Seth Green, Seth Robert Dusky, Joan Cusack, Mindy Sterling, Dan Fogler, Elizabeth Harnois.
Based on the children’s book written by Berkeley Breathed (a former Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist renowned for his satirical drawings), Mars Needs Moms is the latest animated feature to use the motion capture technology perfected by Robert Zemeckis. The process basically sees the performers in a motion capture body suit, which enables the film makers to capture their realistic movements, which are then turned into animation through a computer program. This was the same revolutionary technique he used on his previous films like The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. During the final credits, we get to see how a number of scenes were shot using this process.
According to science Mars, the red planet, has been unable to sustain life. But when this animated film opens we learn that there is life on Mars, and its inhabitants live underground in a labyrinthine subterranean metropolis. This world is a totalitarian matriarchal society, run by females, under the draconian control of the embittered Supervisor (voiced by Mindy Sterling). Every 25 years or so, new babies, or “hatchlings” are born. The male babies are quickly despatched to the bowels of the city where they work in the trash heaps. The females are raised by nannybots. But these robots need to be taught their maternal skills, and it is here that the Martian turn to Earth mothers for help.
Milo (played by Seth Green, but apparently voiced by 11 year old Seth Robert Dusky) is the typical rebellious and sullen nine year old who hates doing chores and eating his green vegetables. After a heated disagreement with his mother (Joan Cusack) he is sent to his room and immediately snaps that he’d be better off without her. Regretting his hurtful comments he gets up in the middle of the night to apologise, just in time to witness his mother being kidnapped and whisked aboard an alien spacecraft. Milo stows aboard the ship and is also transported to Mars.
Milo learns that in order for the nannybots to be programmed, his mother will be sacrificed in a solar powered device in a few hours time. Thus begins a desperate race against time to save her. He receives help in the form of Gribble (an obnoxious Dan Fogler, channeling Jack Black). A tech savvy geek with a fascination for ‘80’s pop culture, Gribble is another Earthling who has been stranded on the planet for a couple of decades. He has somehow managed to tap into the Martian’s surveillance computer network and is able to move through the cavernous depths of the city with ease. Milo also finds help from Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a rebellious Martian with an artistic streak and a fascination for 60’s television.
The film has been directed briskly enough by Simon Wells (the great grandson of author HG Wells), who comes from a background in animation and story boarding. Wells previously directed a number of animated films for Dreamworks (The Prince Of Egypt, etc), but this is his first film since his live action remake of The Time Machine in 2002. The setting is marvelously rendered, and the attention to detail is superb. Mars Needs Moms also comes in 3D, and while a couple of individual sequences benefit from this technology, overall the process adds little to the film itself.
As this is a Disney film though there are some strong conservative messages about families, and the role of women in a balanced society. The film seems to glorify the notion of the stay at home mother who raises the children and performs her domestic duties without quibbling. There is also something a little mawkish about its final scenes, which touch on the nature of sacrifice.
The film also liberally references the likes of Star Wars, Tron and other science fiction classics, which may please pre-adolescent males. But unfortunately Mars Needs Moms is far from a science fiction classic in the making.