MARS NEEDS MOMS
Director: Simon Wells
Cast: Voices and/or performances of Seth Green, Seth Dursky, Dan Fogler, Joan Cusack, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, Kevin Cahoon
MPAA Rating: (for sci-fi action and peril)
Running Time: 1:28
Release Date: 3/11/11
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 10, 2011
Introducing children to fun questions about evolution and gender politics, Mars Needs Moms is an odd, little hybrid of adventure and simplistic allegory in the same way its "performance capture" technology is a strange mixture of live-action and animation. The point of the latter is that all the elements blend together seamlessly, so that the characters fit naturally against the computer-generated backdrops.
The result has been shaky in the past, with digital characters that look just a bit too human for their own good—unnatural if you will. Style is the key to the success or failure of the process in practice, and the further away characters veer from realism, the better the effect.
The human characters in Mars Needs Moms don't have that problem, because, thanks to stereoscopic 3-D presentation, they and the already murky background art they inhabit have been dimmed almost to the point of moving shadows of, at best, defined color.
The action, based on the children's book by Berkeley Breathed, takes place under and on the nighttime surface of the Red Planet or in the gloomy, monochromatic interior of the Martian's metallic civilization. It's an oppressive locale, well suited for a story of a young boy who's trying to save his mother from being vaporized into dust. Did I mention it's also a dark movie in the figurative sense, too?
The boy is Milo ("played" by Seth Green but voiced by Seth Dursky and looking like neither; what's the point of this process again?), an average 9-year-old with a smart-aleck attitude and an aversion to his mom's (Joan Cusack) orders to eat his vegetables, take out the trash, and go to bed. They fight. She says she'd be happier if she didn't have to nag; he says he'd be happier without a mom.
She cries; he feels bad. Late at night, on his way to apologize, Milo notices a light coming from her bedroom and enters to see mom being pulled out the window. He runs out of the house and discovers a rocket ship with his mom and her alien captors. After getting caught on the landing gear, Milo soon finds himself on Mars.
Mars has been segregated by the tyrannical Supervisor (Mindy Sterling): The females—those with flower-vase figures—stay on the surface in the dull, steely abode, and the males—those with shaggy hair and bad posture—live in the garbage dump below. Regardless of sex, no member of the species has adapted over the countless generations to breathe the atmosphere of their home planet, which seems an unfortunate cosmic joke on their kind.
Milo is rescued from imprisonment and death by Gribble (Dan Fogler), another human who has been living underground, constructing elaborate machines, and playing video games since his own mother was captured by the Martians. He explains their reason: Every quarter century, new Martian babies arise from the ground, and the memories of child-rearing are taking from a new, human mother every batch to serve as a program for nanny robots that raise them. When the sun rises, Milo's mom's memories will be wiped, and in the process, she will die.
It's like a feverish nightmare of certain types of people come to life—not the mom-becoming-ash thing but the females doing things other than raising children. The Supervisor, of course, is all about empowering her fellow female Martians, and yes, the reason the men are underground is because she put them there.
Know what, though? They're all kind of happy with the whole thing—the males dancing and pantomiming in the trash piles and the females pursuing careers above—even if it's not the way it used to be, as Milo unearths on in a cave where the wall is decorated with ancient art of a male and female with a child. That's the way things should be, he argues, and everyone joins along.
Clearly the problem is with the repressive power of the Supervisor, not necessarily the makeup of the Martian family unit, and why is this even a point of discussion in the movie? The climax, which drops the weird political bent for something legitimately traditional (mainly a race against time, a fight, a series of sacrifices, and a conveniently placed item from another character's backstory), is surprisingly effective in spite of the rambling, half-hearted exploits that come before it.On a side note, along the way, Milo encounters Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a Martian who's become obsessed with humanity after watching countless hours of a sitcom set in the 1960s. So while she talks in lingo from that era, Gribble is trapped with '80s slang, and if that's not annoying enough, there's the freaky fact that a quick attraction develops between them. Unsettling as it may be, Mars Needs Moms does at least give us hope that maybe a future generation of Martian/human offspring will have better luck inhabiting Mars without the aid of breathing helmets.
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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