Andy Bockelman: Good concept of ‘Mars Needs Moms’ undone by alienating animation



Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

'Mars Needs Moms'

2.5 out of 4 stars

88 minutes

Starring: Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler and Elisabeth Harnois. Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Carmike Chief Plaza 4.

Remember the children featured in “The Polar Express” who didn’t quite look authentic even being modeled after real actors? Their kind have come back once again in “Mars Needs Moms,” but at least the majority of characters here aren’t supposed to resemble actual people.

Rambunctious 9-year-old Milo (Seth Green, voice of Seth Dusky) has it rough.

While his dad (Tom Everett Scott) is out of town, he’s got to be the man of the house, which means such difficult duties as taking out the trash, cleaning his room, eating his broccoli and doing anything else his mother (Joan Cusack) asks.

When it all gets to be too much, Milo does the unthinkable and wishes his mom to be out of his life.

But, as bad as he feels for saying such a terrible thing, it gets worse when it comes to fruition and she is abducted from her bed in the middle of the night by alien invaders. When he’s accidentally whisked away in the culprits’ ship, he marvels as he finds himself on Mars, but the thrill of being on a new planet is quickly replaced when he finds out his captors plan to keep his mother forever.

Green barely leaves a trace of himself, with his modulated adult voice dubbed over by that of Dusky, an actual kid. Nevertheless, combined with Green’s physical acting, it’s not that hard to believe you’re watching a genuine youngster, even if the movie’s motion-capture animation makes every human look like they have dried orange peel for skin.

At least Cusack plays a character that looks like her, as does Dan Fogler, who portrays Milo’s tubby, newfound human ally Gribble, a techno genius who’s been living in the bowels of the Martian underground for more than 20 years, ecstatic to see another Earthling for the first time in ages.

Mindy Sterling is finely sinister as The Supervisor, the head of Martian society, who looks like the end result of a gene splice between actress Linda Hint and a prune, wielding an agenda for child-rearing that involves stealing Earth women’s memories and downloading their “momness” into robots.

Undermining this protocol while incognito is Martian freedom fighter Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), who speaks in outdated 1960s lingo and freaks out her native society with psychedelic graffiti, both the emulation of watching old TV transmissions from Earth.

Confused? You’re not the only one.

As with many kids’ movies, the story here goes so fast that it doesn’t take the necessary time to establish important details, but Gribble does his best to explain to Milo how and why the people of Mars do what they do.

The planet’s whole misandric approach of dumping male babies down the garbage chute of their Death Star-like city — there’s a great “Star Wars” reference — to be raised as second-class citizens is just one of many plot points that isn’t fleshed out as well as it should be.

This isn’t much of a shock considering the animation style employed, the same type from studio ImageMovers that produced the quasi-humans in “Monster House,” “Beowulf,” and, following a Disney buy-out and rechristening as ImageMovers Digital, “A Christmas Carol.”

Robert Zemeckis, who also produced this Martian escapade, just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to delighting audiences, with the studio shutting down operations at the beginning of the year. It’s not hard to see why when, despite endless possibilities, the features simply don’t look that great and cost far too much to make.

With outtakes from the filming process running during the credits of their latest and last production, it also nullifies the sense of movie magic letting us see how something that should be an art is reduced to a science.

Even taking its name from the classic 1960s schlock, “Mars Needs Women,” “Mars Needs Moms” isn’t a bad movie for kids or adults, featuring a worthwhile emotional resonance and a good sense of fun.

But, with a $150 million budget, it doesn’t feel unreasonable to think that the final outcome could have been so much better.

“Toy Story 3” may have been more expensive, but at least with that we got some pleasant animation that continued to push the boundaries of what was possible in cartoons.

Here, it just makes you wonder how much money went into creating the sweaty armpits of Gribble’s oversized burlap Onesie.

Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Carmike Chief Plaza 4.

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