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Mars Needs Moms

A movie directed by Simon Wells

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An Underhyped Disney Film With The Zemeckis Touch

  • Sep 2, 2011
If you are at all concerned with the computer animated film industry, you probably know a little bit about Robert Zemeckis' unique approach of motion capture to achieve an animated product that looks remarkably lifelike (a technique he has proven in films like The Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol and Monster House thus far). The unique stylized look is back in Mars Needs Moms and this one managed to secure the promotion and backing by none other than Disney – who of course has been making a big push in the computer generated feature arena themselves since the absorption of Pixar.

The plot of this one is certainly unique with a welcome science fiction flare not as thoroughly fleshed out since Pixar's own Wall-E. The story follows nine-year-old Milo (played by Seth Green for the motion capture but voiced by child actor Seth Dusky) who, like most kids his age, is more interested in watching zombie movies than doing chores or eating his broccoli at dinner. When Milo's misconduct prompts his mother (Joan Cusack) to punish him with an early bedtime and no zombie pay-per-view, a moment straight out of Home Alone ensues: "I wish I didn't have a mother!" and hence the lesson of being careful what you wish for commences.

When Milo wakes to discover his mother is being kidnapped by Martians, fear of being probed is put on the backburner as he stages a rescue attempt that results in his being accidentally dragged along on for a ride to the red planet itself. Once there, Milo is befriended by a fellow earthling refuge calling himself Gribble (Dan Fogler), an overly enthusiastic man-child who's decades-long absence from Earth has left him trapped in the cultural mindset of the 1980s.

Surprisingly enough, this picture comes from a long line of CG-feature films inspired by children's books (a list that includes How to Train Your Dragon, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Meet the Robinsons to mention a few). The screenplay is surprisingly competent and while the intended audience of the film will likely be too swept up in the grandeur of the visuals to be concerned with such things, diehard scifi fans will likely be a bit frustrated by several questions of Marian society that are never fully answered.

However, the film juggles some pretty heavy themes- the dangers of suppressing free will in society, reliance upon technology, the universal power of love and why moms are more than simply nagging buzz-kills for example- it does so with that trademarked Zemeckis brand of humor that has made past efforts like Back to the Future so endearing. There are references scattered about that younger kids probably won't appreciate, but adults who remember a thing or two about the 80s will surely get a rise from. The humor in Monster House was certainly more universally appealing but it is nice that not all kid-oriented films rely upon slapstick for laughs.

The visuals here are an interesting mix of elements. On the one hand, the motion capture technique is capable of delivering facial expressions that are truly without rival (after all, this is essentially the tool James Cameron used to develop the aliens in Avatar). On the flip side it does away with the exaggerated characterizations kids flock to in your average DreamWorks or Pixar piece. In fact, at a glance, the human characters here can almost pass as live-action with just a hint of aberrance in their faces.

In all, this is a solid family film that doesn't tread upon objective language or themes that is rife with interesting environments, and a nice brisk pace that seems even quicker than its one-hour 22-minte runtime.
An Underhyped Disney Film With The Zemeckis Touch An Underhyped Disney Film With The Zemeckis Touch An Underhyped Disney Film With The Zemeckis Touch An Underhyped Disney Film With The Zemeckis Touch An Underhyped Disney Film With The Zemeckis Touch An Underhyped Disney Film With The Zemeckis Touch

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September 07, 2011
Liked this as well
September 02, 2011
This was....I dunno really aimed for kids. Not for me, but the visuals and the style are definitely something worth noting. I did like its message albeit it was a little unfocused at times. This is a worthy film for Mother's Day indeed! Nice review, Jay! Hey, Frank's been kicking the anime....
September 03, 2011
Ya know, you're right- it did lose focus at times looking back. I felt like I would have loved some deeper explanations on things like why the martians themselves couldn't breathe their atmosphere or why every 25-years the babies "pop from the ground like potatoes". I did like though that they referenced our unmanned rovers and concluded that there may have been life once on the planet. I noticed in your review you selected this one over Red Riding Hood- did you ever end up seeing that one?
September 03, 2011
Those are pretty good observations, Jay. Nope, I think RED RIDING HOOD is going to take a long time making it to my home. I like Seyfried but not enough to bump the movie in my queve. I am so behind! I did see a new movie though, and I have the intention of seeing another this weekend.
More Mars Needs Moms reviews
review by . March 13, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Visually Impressive With The Timeless Message That Moms Are Awesome!!
Being dragged to the movies can sometimes become difficult, oftentimes I don’t mind but sometimes when there’s nothing else I really want to see, I just go with the flow. Truthfully it was someone’s birthday which is why I ended up seeing “Mars Needs Moms” (I guess this was the better choice than “Red Riding Hood”) along with my friends. The film is a joint effort from Disney and ImageMovers Digital, the motion capture team (led by Robert Zemeckis) …
review by . August 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*1/2 out of ****     I'm totally fine with the majority of filmmakers working in animation crafting features for younger children; that's how it works. Plenty of these movies actually turn out to be fairly appealing, if not lacking in depth. Thus, they are not made entirely for kids, are they? I walked in to "Mars Needs Moms" with such expectations and was significantly let-down when it turned out to be much worse than I expected. It underachieves, yes, but that's not the worst …
review by . March 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Mars Needs Moms, based on the book by Berkeley Breathed, is one of those rare films where style and substance go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s exciting, heartfelt, a visual treat (even in 3D), and a whole lot of fun – a family film in the truest sense. It has been brought to life via performance capture animation, a process I’ve championed since its debut and, in the hands of Robert Zemeckis, has been vital to the …
Quick Tip by . March 16, 2011
Saw this film yesterday in 3D, and I thought it was, overall, fairly entertaining. I don't think it was as tight thematically as it could've been, but that's mostly b/c much of the film was basically a throwback to a time when truly animated films had simply stories and characters. MARS NEEDS MOMS could've probably used a better title, though that's certainly a minor quibble. I think some critics drubbed the film unnecessarily precisely because it didn't really strike out …
About the reviewer

Ranked #14
Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on Amazon.com) is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing.      … more
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About this movie


Mars Needs Moms earned only $1,725,000 on its first day, for a weekend total of $6,825,000. This was the tenth worst opening ever for a film playing in 3000+ theaters.  Due to its very high budget of $150 million, the film is a massive box office bomb and is on track to see losses of well over $100 million for parent studio Disney.

Take out the trash, eat your broccoli—who needs moms, anyway? Nine-year-old Milo (Seth Green) finds out just how much he needs his mom (Joan Cusack) when she’s nabbed by Martians who plan to steal her mom-ness for their own young. Produced by the team behind “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” and “The Polar Express,” “Mars Needs Moms” showcases Milo’s quest to save his mom—a wild adventure in Disney Digital 3D™ and IMAX® 3D that involves stowing away on a spaceship, navigating an elaborate, multi-level planet and taking on the alien nation and their leader (Mindy Sterling). With the help of a tech-savvy, underground earthman named Gribble (Dan Fogler) and a rebel Martian girl called Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), Milo just might find his way back to his mom—in more ways than one. Based on the book by Berkeley Breathed.

Character poster art for "Mars Needs Moms 3D."
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Director: Simon Wells
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family
Release Date: 11 March 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: Simon Wells, Wendy Wells
Runtime: 88 min
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