Film Review – Mars Needs Moms

Mars Needs Moms (PG)

Directed by: Simon Wells

Starring: Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Joan Cusack

Two and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

 

Disney, who once dominated the animation genre for decades, seems to be struggling to keep up with the whiz-bangery of Pixar and even Dreamworks. The studio’s charm filled 2D classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi and countless more worked a treat in the 1930s through to the 1990s, but that style seems to be fading with the quick wit and pop culture references of the Toy Story series, Finding Nemo and Cars proving to be more popular with families.

Mars Needs Moms tries to recapture that sweet sentimentality while injecting some high adventure but the tiny tot preview audience just looked at it like it was from another planet. Where were the snappy one liners? Where were the appealing characters? Where was the story that appeals to parents and their kids on equal levels?

Disney needs to remember that it isn’t just the expensive production or the 3D effects that keeps audiences coming back in droves for Pixar films – it is the clever storytelling. While Mars Needs Moms has shades of other, more successful animated films, Disney might have to pick up its game after this well-intentioned misfire.

Milo (Seth Green) is a typical young boy who, when asked to take out the trash and other chores, groans that he has to do everything around the house. He argues when he is told to eat his vegetables and when he is told to go bed. Mum (Joan Cusack) is at the end of her rope and in an argument Milo tells her he’d be much happier if he never had a mum. And in a case of be careful what you wish for a la Home Alone, he gets what he wants.

Mum is whisked off in a space ship and taken to Mars. A new generation of Martians have just popped out of the ground and the planet’s Nannybots, who rear the young, need new memories from a disciplinarian to upload into them. This process doesn’t end too well for the Earth mother whose memories are used – she ends up dead. Cue foreboding music.

Milo manages to stow away on the spaceship that has his mum and is taken to Mars where he is helped by overactive and overweight human Gribble (Dan Fogler). Gribble was stranded on Mars after the same thing happened to him and his mother several years ago. Rebel martian Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) helps the humans save Milo’s mum. The rest is a lot of jumping, falling, tumbling, racing against time and lesson learning.

How does Disney expect to play in the same league as Pixar when the script is filled with dialogue like: “Come on, let’s go!” and “Come on, are running out of time!” Yeah Disney, come on!

Mars Needs Moms gets points for a sensational opening sequence that perfectly captures the bratty attitude of young children who take their parents for granted. But after 90 minutes of focusing on what the best 3D shots are, those fleeting moments are all just a distant memory. It is overloaded with themes that are reiterated and driven home with a sledge-hammer at regular intervals. One more time in case you didn’t get it … no I wouldn’t do that to you.

There are also some strange elements to this film. Much has been made of producer Robert Zemeckis’ motion capture technique that, even now still renders the characters facial expressions almost non-existent. Gribble is the most life-like here but Mom looks positively creepy. Why did they get a grown man to play Milo? And what is up with the wrinkly old ruler The Supervisor (Mindy Sterling) that comes off as a shrill Asian stereotype? Mars might need moms but this film needs to take a page from the Pixar film-making book.

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