If there is a double-dip recession in 2011, I think we can blame it on the motion-capture animation fiasco Mars Needs Moms. The movie cost eleventy-jillion dollars to make and ended up grossing about 12 bucks (amounts are approximate). The stock market has not yet recovered. Is the movie bad enough to bring down the free market economy as we know it? No, it’s not THAT bad. It’s just pretty pedestrian.
Berkley Breathed, the cartoonist behind the “Bloom County” and “Opus” comic strips, is also, to my surprise, a fairly prolific children’s book author. One of his books is Mars Needs Moms, which motion capture animation zealot Robert Zemeckis chose to produce into a very mediocre (but visually appealing) film. Although the film is directed by Simon Wells (The Prince of Egypt), it has Zemeckis’ love of “motion capture above all else” fingerprints all over it. Other than one or two characters, the film looks pretty good, but it doesn’t cross over from being a standard film about appreciating your parents.
Milo (motion captured by Seth Green, voiced by Seth Dusky), is nine years old and doesn’t like taking out the garbage or eating broccoli. Unfortunately, his mom (Joan Cusack) forces both upon him. Her willingness to be a nag about these things makes her a nice target for the Martians, who need to zap out her parenting ability (killing her in the process) and install it in some nanny robots who raise their kids. Uh…yeah. Well, it’s a kid’s movie, so I guess we can just go with it. Quick as you can say “alien abduction sequence,” Milo’s mom is on a spaceship heading to Mars, and Milo is stowed away aboard, determined to rescue her.
It’s unclear at the beginning of the film exactly what is going on, but fortunately, Milo almost immediately meets Gribble (Dan Fogler). Gribble is also from Earth and has lived amongst the Martians' underground garbage pile since leaving Earth in the 1980s. From then on out, it’s all about Milo trying to rescue his mom and, in turn, discovering that he really, you know, loves her and appreciates her and stuff. Bet you didn’t say that coming!
The relationship between Gribble and Milo is the best part of the movie. While not totally unique, there is humor and a bit of heart there. Unfortunately, the movie is called Mars Needs Moms not Milo and Gribble, and the relationship between Milo and his mom is the most underdeveloped family relationship in an animated film since…well, forever. Other than a quick argument over eating broccoli, there is nothing going on between the two of them. I mean, sure, we understand why Milo wants to rescue his mom from death and all, but it would be nicer if we cared a bit about her and their relationship.
The relationship between those two is even less developed than the non-existent development of a love interest between Gribble and the Martian, Ki (Elisabeth Harnois). Ki has learned English from watching '60s and '70s television shows and has a very flower-power attitude, but there just isn’t enough time spent on her and Gribble and what they might do together.
The time is spent making the plot as convoluted and antic as possible. This is a benefit at times, as the visuals are pretty good. The Martian world is realized well by the animation process, and while it’s not so amazing it makes up for a limp plot, it does help a bit. It seems like some effort went into making this a more unique animated film, but it just didn’t really work. Milo doesn’t appreciate his mom, his mom gets in danger, Milo appreciates her. It’s been done before and done better.
The Blu-ray for Mars Needs Moms, like the movie, is pedestrian. It’s actually a great fit for the film, in that it could have been a lot better. The 2-D set (like seemingly all movies these days, the theatrical release has a 3-D and 2-D version, and there is a 3-D Blu-ray as well) comes with a DVD version, but no digital copy. I’m not sure what the dividing line is for those movies where they give you the digital copy and those where they don’t, but this falls on the don’t side.
The main extra is called “Life on Mars,” and it’s a picture-in-picture of the motion capture and early animatics of the movie with an optional commentary by Simon Wells, Seth Green, and Dan Fogler. It’s always interesting to see a scene that has been motion captured in its basic form, and the commentary by the trio is pretty funny, but it’s not like everyone hasn’t seen the guys running around in bobsled unitards with dots on their faces before this. Also, you can’t separate the commentary from the PIP section, although you can get the PIP without the commentary. In other words, if you want to watch the actual movie with the commentary, you’re screwed. I think most people who want to listen to the commentary probably won’t care, but why not give them the option?
The only other substantive extra is some lengthy deleted scenes. The scenes are in various stages of completion and are introduced by director Simon Wells. The main scene is an “alternate opening” to the movie, which Wells notes they dropped because they felt it was too much of a downer. Watching the scene doesn’t really give you that sense, and it’s more comprehensible than the actual opening scene, but neither is really impressive.
The final two extras are filler in the extreme. One called “Fun with Seth” is Seth Green goofing around in the motion capture suit. Unfortunately, there is more of people talking about how funny Seth is on-set than actual clips of him doing anything particularly funny. Plus, it’s only about two minutes long. A regular gag reel would have been more satisfying. The other extra is “Martian 101,” about how the Martian language was created for the movie. Here’s the gist of it: the actors made it up. It’s even less interesting than my summary makes it sound. They act like they created the next Klingon language, though.
That’s it for the extras. The film itself is amazing to look at, and the HD does a great job with a crisp picture. It would be nice if it were in service of a better movie, though.