MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Review: Mars Needs Moms

I’m going to be right up front about Mars Needs Moms and tell you that I wasn’t overly impressed with this movie. And I feel bad saying that, because it’s apparent that an awful lot of work went into making it. Actors wore little dots all over their faces, for Pete’s sake! To do motion capture! That’s gotta count for something, right? Unfortunately, someone forgot to give the story as much thought as they gave to the motion capture technique, which isn’t in and of itself new enough or nifty enough to overcome a flawed script.

I mean, look. I get that we’re supposed to suspend disbelief for the sake of story. And when it works, as in, say, the Toy Story films, or Finding Nemo (which I’m watching with my youngest while I write this), it just works. And when it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t.

So, the gist of the film: Milo’s mom makes him do things, like take out the trash and eat his broccoli. This makes Milo (Seth Green, but, uh, not Seth Green’s voice) mad, and they have a fight. That night, aliens come and abduct his mom in their big spaceship. Milo chases after them, gets caught inside the ship, ends up on Mars. There, with the help of Gribble (Dan Fogler), a grown(ish) man who’s living in hiding on Mars in the trash dump, he sets out to rescue his mom.

Then there’s Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a Martian chick who just happens to have tuned into a broadcast of some 1970s television show and has formed all her ideas about humans from that AND, as a result of watching this television show, has become a sort of Martian-chick-Banksy, tagging Mars with flower-power graffiti. With Ki’s help, Milo and Gribble might just stand a chance.

Now the thing is, when you look at it from the standpoint of a pitch, you can see how some people thought this movie wasn’t a bad idea. Look, here’s this cool book by Berkeley Breathed! It has pretty pictures! And if they had made that movie, this probably would have been pretty good. Unfortunately, it feels like there were maybe four or five chefs tossing ideas into the pot here, and no one at the helm making sure everything needed to be there. And the end result is just a mess.

I don’t have a copy of the book, but a glance through the pages available on Amazon don’t show anything about the “Ki” story; the focus in the book, so far as I can tell, appears to have been on the story of a little boy who’s mad at his mom for making him eat vegetables, and how he learns to appreciate her only when the Martians take her away. Pure, classic, childrens’ storytelling that appears to have gotten very lost here.

The trouble is, we really have four separate stories going on: the story of how Milo loses his mom, finds her again, and saves her; the story of how Gribble lost his mom, and didn’t save her, and everything that’s happened to him in the years since; and the back story of how the Supervisor has completely obliterated the history of this planet, turning it from a place where hippy-dippy Martian moms and dads raised their Martian kiddos in little happy nuclear families to a cold, regimented, militaristic world where Martian baby girls are “parented” by robotic nanny bots and Martian baby boys are dumped in the trash. Wha –?

And then there’s the very Antz-like story of how a little rebel named Ki dared to challenge the conformist status quo of her planet and, through flower-power, street art, and a single photo of an artifact documenting another way of life (director Simon Wells, perhaps not coincidentally, is listed as a storyboard artist for Antz).

When the best thing your movie has going for it is the “how we made this movie” bit that’s running during the closing credits, you maybe needed to do a little more work thinking through the story. Cute enough idea, but just really not well done. And I can’t think of a single thing in the film that was made better by the 3D.

SPOILER ALERT

You should stop reading here if you really don’t want this movie spoiled for you.

Also, here are some of the things in this film that make no sense to me, even upon reflection, and even allowing for a certain degree of unbelievability:

*Gribble has been stuck on Mars since he was roughly Milo’s age, so were talking minimum 10 years, probably closer to 20. He lives in the trash dump with no one but a bunch of dim-witted castaway Martians for company. So how did he learn to build all this fairly sophisticated electronics and computer and surveillance equipment? Are we supposed to believe he’s built all this out of scraps?

*What’s Gribble eaten all this time? Do humans have the same nutritional requirements as Martians?

*Given that everything else in the Martian world is drab and gray, where exactly does Ki get all that cool fluorescent paint? How did she invent the technology to create FLOWERS with a single spray of her, er, spray gun?

*If the Martians have the technology to extract memories of effective parenting from a human subject and to use those memories to program nanny-bots, why haven’t they figured out how to simply “copy” rather than “cut” those memories so they could use the memories without killing the subject?

*For that matter, if the Martians have the technology to do any of the things they are capable of (i.e. travel through a wormhole of sorts to greatly reduce the time it takes to travel between Mars and Earth, among other things), is it really believable that the method they would have developed for extracting a person’s memories and then using those memories to program a legion of nanny bots would involve such a Rube Goldbergian contraption?

*For the love of Bambi! Is it possible to make a children’s film that doesn’t include a dead mother somewhere in the plot?

*If Ki acquired all her knowledge of humans from that one 1970s television program — where did she learn the phrase, “My bad,” which didn’t become common vernacular until much later?

*So, like, are Gribble and Ki an item now? And just how exactly would humans and Martians … you know …?

*Also, lower gravity aside, it seemed like some of the tumbles the characters took would have caused significantly more damage to various body parts.

END SPOILERS

Bottom line: This one can wait for DVD or pay-per-view, especially if you have more than one kid. Hold off and get it for four or five bucks and show it during a sleepover, and it’s maybe not a bad deal. Blow $80 in tickets and snacks if you have a pack of kids like we do, though, and you’re gonna be disappointed. Better take the brood to see Rango while it’s in theaters, instead. Sorry.

5 Responses to “Review: Mars Needs Moms”

  1. Lisa says:

    Since watching the trailer, I’ve been waiting to read your takedown of this film. As always, punchy and well-observed.

    I’m surprised, though, you didn’t see fit to provide any feminist critique of it. I have no interest in wasting $9 on the film myself, but from what i’ve read and seen from the trailer, the Martian society seems like a right-wing dystopia about what would happen if the big bad feminists ruled our society. (And I know it’s based on a book, but really, in a film about a mom who gets kidnapped by aliens, how is the son’s story more interesting? Personally, I’d much rather watch Joan Cusack interact with Martians for 2 hours).

  2. Kim Voynar says:

    Lisa,

    Unfortunately, you don’t get to watch that because …

    < >

    Joan Cusack’s charater is UNCONSCIOUS for most of the movie. How bad a decision is that, to hire someone with her talent and then render her character unconscious the entire time?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

  3. Lisa says:

    Joan Cusack always lends such class to whatever crappy project she’s in (Ice Princess, Mars Needs Moms, Runaway Bride), I wish she were given more chances to carry a movie on her own. She kills it (not to mention is smoking hot) in Addams Family Values. Can’t believe that film was almost 20 years ago!

  4. Proman says:

    Maybe they hired Cusack because her style of overacting and facial twitching (which I personally find annoying) lends itself well to motion capture.

  5. Coralie says:

    That’s 2 clever by half and 2×2 clever 4 me. Tnahks!

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