I can’t imagine that H.G. Wells is taking this very well. You gotta think that the great-grandfather of Mars Needs Moms director and writer Simon Wells is holding his head in his hands a bit. Even if it weren’t coming on the heels of the brilliant Rango, Mars looks like junior varsity Pixar, by way of The Polar Express.
Frankly, I can’t figure it out. The folks at ImageMovers (who also made Express) actually film real people acting out the scenes before later ‘covering’ them with animation– so you’d think it would look more realistic than, say, hand-drawn or hand-computered animation. But there are times in Mars when the animation looks so ‘off’ that you can’t help but scratch your head.
In all honesty, though, that’s the least of our worries. The movie is scarier than it needs to be, the humor is dumber than it needs to be, and it’s in 3D only so you can feel like you’re sitting on a roller coaster.
The story begins with petulant young Milo (body by Seth Green, voice by Seth Dursky) refusing to take out the trash, refusing to eat his broccoli, and in every other way refusing to listen to his mother (body and voice by Joan Cusack). After he’s sent to bed without TV, he tells his mom that he would be better off without her.
As luck would have it, Martians have been listening to the whole conversation, and they seize on the opportunity; every 25 years they have a massive baby boom, requiring them to kidnap the world’s June Cleavers, and extract their child-rearing skills, to raise Martian babies.
That very night, Milo’s mom is rocketed away to the red planet, complete with stowaway Milo. On arrival, she’s taken to the top of the tallest tower to be lobotomized and ‘terminated’, while Milo jumps down a trash chute (because, you know, it’s 3D!) and runs into Gribble (Dan Fogler), a Jack Black-like Earthling who was part of a secret astronaut program.
With only seven hours until his mom is toast, young Milo and Gribble work together to rescue her, with the help of a kindly Martian named Ki. Along the way, they fall down several elevator shafts, bottomless chasms, and occasionally even fall from the sky a few times (because, you know, it’s 3D!).
The events of Mars Needs Moms aren’t terribly scary (though I wouldn’t recommended it for, say, anyone younger than 6), but with a dark and ominous score that sounds more like it belongs in the next theater over, at Battle: Los Angeles, there were more than a few times that you’ll wonder what the filmmakers were thinking.
The script is based very loosely on the book by Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed (If they had only used his drawings, too!), and, of course, it hits the ‘Love and appreciate your mother’ button over and over and over again. And there’s not much in the way of humor for adults, except for a few stale, throwaway 60s references (Ki learned about Earth culture by watching a satellite feed of a Woodstock-era sitcom.)
When a movie relies on hippie lingo (‘Aw, that’s baaad, dude!’) and ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ for its humor, you know you’re in trouble. At least the closing credits include some nifty (and very entertaining) video of all the actors going through the motion capture process. Maybe next time they could just leave it like that.