“Mars Needs Moms,” the newest 3-D motion-capture CGI movie, is a surreal, somewhat-depressing foray into children’s entertainment.
Milo (voiced by Seth Green) is a bratty 9-year-old whose mother (Joan Cusack) is abducted by a totalitarian, female-dominated martian regime so they can steal her motherly instinct and transfer it into the robots that raise the alien youth. They carry out this plan every 25 years by strapping their abductees into a giant machine that focuses the rays of the sun and incinerates them.
The film is the latest and — in the wake of its abysmal commercial failure — the last movie for the now defunct company ImageMovers. Based on a Berkeley Breathed children’s book, the film lacks the whimsy to match its ambition and originality. The filmmakers may have come as close as possible to representing subtle human expression with CGI technology — just short of filming actual people — but they have not successfully conveyed those same emotions in the script.
From the catalyst argument between Milo and his mother before she is abducted to Milo’s meeting with the mentally-unhinged but well-meaning Robinson-Crusoe-on-Mars-character Gribble (Dan Fogler), the movie runs the gambit between manipulating the audience to the point of being depressing to just plain terrifying.
It is common for the characters to fall hundreds of feet into a giant mountain range of garbage and somehow emerge unscathed. In fact, it becomes an oft-recurring plot motif. They also spout cringe-inducing lines that go unexplained. Even characters who are not martians don’t really act or talk like human beings.
The film is all fantasy and kiddie-fodder. It attempts to abandon the conventional narrative for the sake of more imaginative storytelling. But, it appears the filmmakers just did not take the time to craft a story or characters that appeal to more people than those who are easily frightened or emotionally vulnerable.
“Mars Needs Moms” includes jokes about pooping one’s pants in terror and a female Martian that learned English from ’60s hippie television shows, but the story never lifts off the ground. The result is a film that strikes a strange mix of lowest common denominator humor and inaccessible characters.
The heavy-handed special effects and visual-driven film uses a technology that ideally is meant to preserve real emotion. But, it ends up channeling bloated, excessive nonsense with visuals that become a self-defeating endeavor.
“Mars Needs Moms” crash-lands in the uncanny valley and hits hard. Children of nontraditional families can’t really identify with such a narrow concept of what the perfect mother is. The movie’s message of the importance of mothers really doesn’t work if the antagonists come from a matriarchal society.
For all of the visual triumph on display, the film’s emotional core could have used a little more attention to detail.
“Mars Needs Moms” was written by Simon and Wendy Wells, and directed by Simon Wells. It was adapted from the children’s book, “Mars Needs Moms” by Berkeley Breathed.
2 out of 4 stars