MARS NEEDS MOMS
VOICES OF: Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth
Harnois, Mindy Sterling, Kevin Cahoon, Joan Cusack
2011, 88 Minutes, Directed by:
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.
Mars Needs Moms is a
peculiar movie-going experience where its least effective element boils down to
a single obnoxious performance.
Lively, richly animated with
intriguing motion capture fluidity, and pleasingly designed with special
attention to sprawling Martian environments, the film is nearly sunk by the
efforts of co-star Dan Fogler, who’s biologically incapable of delivering funny
business, squirting his spastic funk all over this nifty CG-animated chase film.
A young boy tired of his
domestic duties, Milo (performed by Seth Green, voiced by Seth Dusky) has grown
to resent his mother (Joan Cusack).
When Martians bent on finding
human mothers to help raise their newborns come to Earth and kidnap his parent,
Milo is accidentally whisked away on the ship, taken to a subterranean alien
kingdom, where he meets Gribble (Dan Fogler), a daffy Earthling who found
himself in the same predicament in the 1980s.
Eager to save his mother before
the matriarchal Martian society steals her parental knowledge, Milo sets out to
infiltrate this strange world, using Gribble’s technical know-how and help from
Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a sympathetic Martian who’s learned broken English via a
colorful 1970’s sitcom.
Mars Needs Moms is the
latest production from ImageMovers Digital, the mo-cap animation squad (led by
Robert Zemeckis) behind such films as The Polar Express and A
Christmas Carol. Adapting the 2007 book by comic strip icon Berkeley
Breathed, the producers bring a fresh fantasy world to life, staging a
large-scale comic adventure with swooping camera moves, towering vistas, and
some extra dimension with its 3D presentation.
Director Simon Wells (2002’s
The Time Machine, Prince of Egypt)
exploits the detailed animation splendidly, deploying performance movement
thoughtfully, while arranging a merry visual scheme that finds Ki (a disgruntled
Martian soldier) spreading color around the steely Martian landscape, creating a
look that deploys bold hues carefully for a more substantial impact.
"While Mars Needs Moms is a feast for the eyes, it's a little
rough on the ears . . ."
The design of the alien nation
is also quite compelling, with the Martians boasting big eyes and wide hips,
resembling an upside down tuning fork with hooves, supporting both imposing and
endearing facial qualities.
Technically speaking, I was
consistently delighted by the picture and its graceful movement (the mo-cap
aesthetic provides a unique dance to the animation), watching it joyfully build
its version of Mars and the playful community of oddballs within.
While Mars Needs Moms is
a feast for the eyes, it’s a little rough on the ears, working from a script
that contains a Who Let the Dogs Out? reference and generally prods
Fogler to screech his way around the frame.
There are dark shadings to the
Martian parental kidnapping plan that are most welcome, and a few tender beats
of personal loss are felt, but the jokes are moronic, with most gags playing up
Gribble’s lost childhood - the doughy man-boy is trapped in the 1980s, dreaming
of Top Gun and the comfort of Smurf-Berry Crunch cereal.
The cast is skilled enough to
sell the wonder and suspense of the moment, with Fogler being the obvious
cancer. He delivers a strident performance of adolescent excitement, shaping
Gribble into a breathless monster with extreme mucus issues, destroying the
engaging sense of discovery the film builds wonderfully.
Gribble instantly annoys, which
might’ve been the intention, but I could think of several other actors who could
nail those same notes of destructive excitement with some sense of boundary
while displaying effortless comedic skills.
It’s a bumpy ride for Mars
Needs Moms, but the effort is appreciable, often thrilling when Milo is
flung and dropped around the Martian city. A final summation of parental
appreciation is also a splendid touch, helping to wash away the less savory
elements of the production. Energetic and inspired (sans Fogler), the picture
concludes on a high note, providing the intergalactic goods with spirit, only
one critical miscasting away from true satisfaction.
- Brian Orndorf