Talk all you want about technique: a good animated film depends on story and character, and it’s those vital ingredients that make Mars Needs Moms so entertaining. It’s also a pleasure to see a movie meant for kids that’s clever but not cynical or smart-alecky. I’m still not sold on producer Robert Zemeckis’ performance-capture technology, but I am sold on this movie. It deserves to be a hit, and I hope it is.
The hero is a typical young boy named Milo who hates doing chores around the house, and rebels at his mother’s attempts at discipline while his father is out of town. Then a spaceship from Mars abducts his mother! Milo manages to—
—hang onto the tip of the spacecraft and make the journey with her. It seems that the red planet has evolved to the point where Nanny-bots care for its young female hatchlings, but they need brain input from true-blue earth-moms like Milo’s. The adventure continues from there.
Mars Needs Moms is brimming with imagination and humor. Its leading characters brought to life by Joan Cusack, Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Elizabeth Harnois, and Mindy Sterling. Over the closing credits we get to see them acting out their parts for the motion-capture cameras; this enables us to see first-hand just how much each actor actually “performs” for this ostensibly animated feature. Why one has to go to all this trouble when talented artists have created memorable performances for animated characters over the decades without such help remains a mystery to me. It’s especially odd in this case since several characters closely resemble their human models. Isn’t the point of a cartoon to exaggerate and caricature, instead of trying to imitate real-life?
Director Simon Wells, an animation veteran (An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, The Prince of Egypt) who’s dabbled in live-action (the 2002 remake of The Time Machine) collaborated with his wife Wendy on the screenplay, expanded from a children’s book by Berkeley Breathed, creator of the comic strips Bloom County and Opus. As with a good live-action movie, it all begins with the script, and this one is solid—well thought-out, briskly paced, funny and sweet. In the end, it’s the finished film that matters, not the process. However they got there, Wells and his team have made a delightful movie every member of the family can enjoy.