Somewhere within the useless mess of Mars Needs Moms lies a half-hearted message about the importance of the family unit and how, when it comes to raising children in an optimal environment, fathers are just as important as mothers. Oddly, Walt Disney Pictures chose to portray this essence of humanity by bringing its actors to life (in a manner of wishful thinking, anyway) through the performance-capture fetish of producer Robert Zemeckis (director of such hellish visual creations as The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol) and his ImageMovers Digital studio. The end result is, at best, entirely creepy and, at worst, an utter disaster of filmmaking.
Director Simon Wells and his co-screenwriter, Wendy Wells, adapt the children’s novel by Berkeley Breathed, but the story only outlines a threadbare foundation that serves to spur the plot into action. Like most human children, young Milo (based upon the movements of Seth Green and voiced by Seth Dusky) takes issue with his upbringing. Dad (Tom Everett Scott) is largely absent due to work commitments, and Mom (Joan Cusack, who should know better) is so inhumane as to ask him to take out the trash and eat his broccoli. One evening, Milo’s frustration comes to a boiling point, and he yells that his life would be easier without his Mom, who weeps in response. Well, Milo quickly regrets this choice of words when an alien spaceship arrives and rips Mom out of bed, so he scampers onto the ship and soon finds himself on Mars.
Once on the foreign planet, Milo figures out what’s going on from Gribble (Dan Fogler), an insufferable manchild that followed his own mother to Mars a few decades ago in a similar manner. It seems that Martian babies hatch from the ground, and the adults don’t know how to care for them, so the planet’s ancient matriarch named Supervisor (Mindy Sterling) periodically kidnaps Earthling mothers and steals their consciousness to program Nannybots. Milo convinces Gribble to find help him save his Mom, and the duo finds unexpected aid from a friendly girl Martian, Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), who learned English from intercepting an Earthling television show (let’s just call it “That 60s Show”) and lives her life as a rogue graffiti artist who dreams of free love and flower power. Together, the three outsiders must work together to not only save Milo’s Mom but also transform the planetary outlook. Yes, it’s just as insipid as it sounds.
Naturally, the plot and all of its surrounding details are entirely preposterous; but, to be fair, the movie doesn’t really give a shit about realism in terms of a believable story. Of course, this shunning of realism doesn’t exactly line up with the chosen visual medium; as per its usual method, the performance-capture animation in this movie generates horrific “lifelike” animated humans with zombie-like movements and soulless eyes. However, such incongruities mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of Mars Needs Moms, which puts action first with added afterthoughts of overwrought sentimentality and very little consideration to suspending disbelief. On the contrary, for the human characters travel easily to and from Mars by way of a wormhole, and the Martian landscape itself is alternately littered with heaps of trash and gorgeous, free-flowing bodies of water. At least the filmmakers got the low gravity detail correct, but this trifling bit of accuracy is only permitted to exist in this movie because it presumably appeals to small children.
Speaking of audience engagement, who the hell ever decided that Dan “Grapefruit Masturbator” Fogler was the ideal candidate to star in a children’s film? With much dismay, it must be noted that his animated character most accurately resembles the actor’s physical self. Even worse, the audience is saddled with Fogler’s unstoppable voice as he rambles through a constant stream of verbal diarrhea, including such treasured 1980s pop culture references as Top Gun jokes and a speech about how Mars is the “red planet” because it’s a perfect example of the destruction that “interplanetary communism” has wrought. Quite simply, there’s no audience for this garbage, for the adults don’t care and the kids are too busy looking forward to the next chase scene. Indeed, the few bits of adrenaline rush on display are the only semi-remarkable parts of this movie, which is barely passable when the visuals confine themselves to the faux-Martian landscapes and shots featuring the aliens and spacecrafts. Otherwise, Mars Needs Moms is an incongruous display of inhumanity to which your really kids needn’t be exposed.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.