Mars Needs Moms
Directed by Simon Wells. Voices by Seth Green, Seth Dusky, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, Kevin Cahoon, Joan Cusack. (2011, PG, 88 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 11, 2011
Peter Pan stole Wendy from her British bedroom because he needed someone to sew pockets onto trousers for his Lost Boys and read bedtime stories to them, although Peter, no doubt, also had some unstated needs for nurturance and mothering. Martians, apparently, need mothers, too, but in the animated Mars Needs Moms, the aliens require something other than A+ skills in stitchery and storytelling. Martians, you see, have decided they need to capture earthling mothers to harness their disciplinary power, a quality that seems totally lacking in the nannybots that raise the Martian hatchlings. So the aliens scour Earth for a suitable mom to kidnap and then extract all her maternal memories in order to upload them into the overrun nannybots. Milo’s mom (Cusack) becomes this season’s unlucky abductee due to her demonstrated skill for getting her son to do his chores and eat his broccoli. Unfortunately, just before her abduction, she sends Milo (whose motion-capture performance is by Green, while Milo’s voice is provided by young Dusky) to his room for a disciplinary breach and he irritatedly tells her that he’d be better off without a mother. Milo learns the boneheadedness of that statement when he stows away on the Martian spaceship and embarks on a mission to rescue his mother. That’s the emotional heart of Mars Needs Moms, which is based on a slim children’s book by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist (Bloom County) and UT alum Berkeley Breathed. Once on Mars, the action gets a lot noisier and more disturbingly illogical. Mars is a planet run by giant-hipped females under the rule of the cronelike Supervisor (Sterling). Male hatchlings are sent down the garbage chute, where they fend for themselves amid the trash. The female Martians are a mass of obedient automatons akin to the creepy workers in Metropolis – only these bizarrely shaped women possess the virtual definition of “child-bearing hips.” Indeed, these premises regarding sex roles and body image seem very odd in a movie that ostensibly venerates motherhood. While on Mars, Milo is befriended by Gribble (Fogler), an oversized man-boy who has remained on Mars since chasing his own kidnapped mom to the planet back in the Eighties. Milo’s other ally is the Martian female Ki (Harnois), a renegade graffiti artist who sprays walls with color and speaks in flower-power slogans that she copped from a forbidden peek at some Earth television from the Seventies. Though space helmets are worn and the laws of gravity are paid lip service, few other scientific facts about the Angry Red Planet factor into the film’s narrative equation. The motion-capture animation technique has come a long way since Robert Zemeckis (a producer on this film) introduced it in The Polar Express, but what’s missing too often is the human element, especially during all the rambunctious activity on Mars. The film’s closing credits are coupled with on-set footage of the actors performing the motion-capture work. The material kept most of the audience riveted in their seats. The how-it-was-made demonstration may have been the most captivating part of Mars Needs Moms.