Mars Needs Moms is the final production from Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers Digital, which was a part of Disney but has now been closed down. Like many of the films produced there, it is computer animated and uses the motion capture technology that Zemeckis has championed for some time. Unfortunately, as a send off to the production house, this family-friendly feature is mostly forgettable fare.
We follow nine-year-old Milo (voiced by Seth Dusky but, a little bizarrely, performed by Seth Green, who is approaching 40, perhaps as a way of getting a bigger name on the posters) a basically good kid who, in a classic childish sulk, professes to his mother (Joan Cusack) that his life would be better if she were not around. Later he comes to regret this outburst, but is denied his opportunity to apologise when aliens from Mars descend in the night and steal his mother away in order to steal her parenting abilities to raise their own Martian young.
The story is obviously hogwash, (particularly given some of the later developments) but makes for a decent enough parable about loving one’s mother that does manage to evoke one or two endearing moments. Problem is, the story feels decidedly stretched at times, overly hurried at others, and is frequently too eager to have our protagonists fall down holes screaming (no doubt because this is a 3D film).
Milo is a likable protagonist, brought to life through some fairly impressive motion capture work, but the supporting cast are a mixed bag. Gribble, the hyperactive boy-trapped-in-a-man’s-body who serves as Milo’s sidekick, dangerously risks making us hate him before we’re given a chance to discover his importance. Dan Fogler plays him as a fast-talking man-child, full of adolescent ‘attitude’, but is disastrously unfunny at first. As time goes by he becomes more bearable. There’s a similar problem with Ki, a friendly Martian who aids our heroes; besides the fact that her motives for helping our heroes are paper thin, her main character trait – that she learned about humanity from videos from the 60s – is never well exploited. At least visually, with her smiling face, she is easy to like.
The overall design of the picture is pleasant enough but derivative of countless other sci-fi pics and children’s animations. The 3D is a non-event. It’s a shame the film’s art design doesn’t reflect the same quality as the motion-capture, which is generally very good. The Martians themselves are fairly standard tall, thin creations with big heads. Their city is the kind of clean white metropolis we’ve seen before in better films.
With some weird gender politics added in for good measure, Mars Needs Moms is a decidedly average children’s animation. Perhaps add a third star for the r eally young ones, but most kids (and any accompanying parents) will find this to be of a noticeably lower standard than many of the other kids films that have been released recently.