DVD Review: Mars Needs Moms offers up sci-fi kiddie fun thanks to its motion-capture visual energy and amusing vocal performances. As long as you roll with the goofy punch lines, the animated movie makes for decent matinee entertainment.
Mars Needs Moms was undeservedly tarnished this spring for not performing well at the box office, but don’t let that deter you and your kids from checking it out now on home video. Maybe it’s not Pixar-level quality, but it’s a perfectly enjoyable action-comedy for pre-teens.
The movie is mostly a boys-adventure tale, following a spunky rascal named Milo (Seth Green “acts” the role in motion capture, young Seth Dusky provides the voice) whose mother (Joan Cusack) is snatched up by Martians and taken to the Red Planet. Milo stows away on the abducting ship and discovers a Martian society run by authoritarian females who occasionally need to suck out the brains of human mothers in order to learn how to properly discipline their baby Martians. (That’s right–there is brain sucking.)
Thankfully Milo hooks up with Gribble, another human man-child who’s been hiding on Mars since his own mom was abducted in the ‘80s. Voiced by the impressive comic actor Dan Fogler (most recently seen in Take Me Home Tonight), Gribble is a slobbish, arrested-development tech geek living out a Lost Boy existence in a Martian junkyard. Also inhabiting the trash piles are refugee male Martians, discarded by the females at birth because they are too emotionally soft, weak and “huggy.”
(The Martian males look like Michael Jackson’s Scarecrow in The Wiz with Justin Guarini dreads and Robin Williams body fur. They’re like Hippie Ewoks. And the Martian reproductive cycle is intentionally vague: Every decade or so babies pop up out of the ground, the infant males are tossed in the trash, and the females are raised to adulthood. But where does the next batch of Martian babies come from? Huh? Huh? Martian storks? Martian cabbage patches? And while we’re asking tricky questions, why do the warm, lovable, quick-to-dance males come off vaguely aboriginal while the stern, strict females have a slightly Asian feel? Hmm?)
Based on Berkeley (Bloom County) Breathed’s kids’ book, Mars Needs Moms is directed by Simon Wells (H.G.’s great-grandson and director of the 2002 The Time Machine). It’s produced by Robert Zemeckis through his ImageMovers Digital motion-capture animation company that made A Christmas Carol, and uses all of Zemeckis’ beloved mo-cap technology, including live stages (shown in a fun closing credits sequence) where the actors perform entire scenes, complete with movement and action, in real life and real time. For all the criticism Zemeckis has taken, that does seem to make for better, more natural vocal performances.
Most of Mars Needs Moms is a straightforward sci-fi jaunt, an extended kids’ riff—complete with impressive alien visuals–on the Death Star detention center, tractor beam, and trash chute scenarios from the original Star Wars, as well as more than a little Total Recall. But Green and Fogler share a solid comedy-adventure vibe, along with Elizabeth Harnois as a rebellious young female Martian who throws in with the boys as they set out to rescue Milo’s mom.
The movie has some pacing issues, especially at the start and whenever Fogler’s vocal energy isn’t in the mix. And overall Mars Needs Moms feels a little disjointed, with themes and plot lines slapped together, including the expected pro-Mom messages tacked on at the end. There’s also some fairly intense sci-fi danger—a public execution ceremony, a relatively scary brain-sucking scene, and the unnerving notion that it’s a good idea to let a young boy keep a deadly Martian ray gun.
But Green, Dusky and Fogler–plus Cusack, Harnois, and the Great Mindy Sterling (Frau in the Austin Powers movies)–turn in enjoyable motion-capture performances, and Mars Needs Moms winds up an amusing, disposable romp that entertains just fine.