Michael Moran Meets Mars Needs Moms

Posted by April 7, 2011 Comment

Shame about that N in Needs in there, I’d have like a clean sweep of M alliteration across the headline.

Anyhow, Michael Moran went to see Mars Needs Moms, and this is what he wants to tell you about it:

Another week, another computer-rendered kids’ animation. To stand out from the great mass of romantic gnomes, existential chameleons and angry birds vying for the family popcorn budget you need something special. So what is the USP for Simon Wells’s Mars Needs Moms?

Mars Needs Moms not only takes us to the cold and dusty deserts of Mars, it takes us to the far side of Uncanny Valley. This latest example of Robert Zemeckis’s near obsessional desire to replicate actors using the magic of computers boasts the most photo-realistic synthespians yet.

The lead role – that of truculent 9-year-old-Milo – is performed by two actors. Youngster Seth Dusky provides the main character’s voice while the motion-capture puppeteering is handled by Robot Chicken alumnus Seth Green. It’s an odd way to craft a character who is supposed to be the audience’s principal emotional connection to the film, but it does for the most part work.

Every kids’ movie needs a moral, and Mars Needs Moms telegraphs Milo’s emotional journey practically from the first scene. He’s a typical boy who wants to slack around on the family sofa watching zombie movies rather than obey his mother’s exhortations to eat broccoli and do some light household chores. Predictably, he wishes her out of existence. All it needs is one little alien abduction to teach Milo that every boy needs a mother.

One beautifully-rendered wormhole journey to Mars later, Milo gets a look at his possible motherless future in the form of Gribble, a sort of sci-fi Peter Pan who lives in an untidy Martian underworld watching TV all day and somehow finding enough food to build him into a stubbly rotund approximation of Dan Fogler.

The rest of the movie’s a lively series of chases, escapes and rescues as Milo and Gribble match wits with the cold matriarchy of Martian society.

It must be said, the gender politics of this movie don’t really bear close examination. The characterisation of Martian society as being split into emotionless matriarchs and dimwitted hippie-caveman males is probably meant to remind us of the Eloi and the Morlocks from The Time Machine* but struck me as evoking the worst of both developmentally stunted fratboy comedies and a million TV ads depicting feckless husbands.

Then again, this is an animated movie aimed at the under-12s. It may not be appropriate it to subject it to the Spare Rib treatment.

Don’t, whatever you do, try to understand how Martians reproduce. Their lifecycle seems to be equal parts Brave New World and The Flowerpot Men.

On the upside, Milo’s attempts to come to terms with the weaker Martian gravity are well-represented and I suspect educational. And certainly the film looks lovely. The 3D process works well and isn’t abused for the kind of ‘poke in the eye’ effects that tempt so many directors. I know computer games bores like to discuss how well various game engines depict water and in Mars Needs Moms a splashy new benchmark has been set.

Character design is unsettlingly realistic for the humans, while the Martians are variously Olivia Wilde in Tron:Legacy (females) and Shaggy in Scooby Doo (males). The voice acting’s solid enough, with Fogler living up to his reputation as the Happy Shopper Jack Black.

There’s some stuff about Fogler’s character using the language of the 1980s and Martian tomboy Ki getting her English lessons from a 1960s hippie sitcom that doesn’t quite come off – and I suspect would be over the heads of the intended audience.

There are some clunky bits of dialogue here and there too along the “What is this human word ‘love’” line but overall the script hangs together reasonably well and it’s an entertaining enough way to spend an hour and a half.

Mars Needs Moms is by no means an unmissable smasheroo but it’s a pretty-looking film with a pleasant simple story and, as long as you’re not too sensitive about gender stereotypes, some likeable enough characters.

Disappointingly, there’s no reference to the 1966 drive-in favourite than lends Mars Needs Moms 66% of its title.

If you need to entertain a younger relative for an afternoon there are worse ways to go. 5 and a half out of 10.

That’s Michael’s review. Myself, I can honestly say that if it came to a vote between Mars Needs Moms and Hop, I’d commit identity fraud in order to vote for Hop twice.

*Written by HG Wells, great grandfather of this movie’s director, Simon Wells.

(Last Updated April 7, 2011 4:30 am )