‘Mars Needs Moms’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated March 12th, 2011 at 7:20 pm,

Mars Needs Moms Trailer 2 Mars Needs Moms Review

Screen Rant’s Sandy Schaefer reviews Mars Needs Moms

Mars Needs Moms is brought to life via the technical wizardry of the motion-capture technology championed by filmmaker Robert Zemeckis. Although Zemeckis sat in the director’s chair for his previous mo-cap features (The Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol), with Mars he served only as producer, and handed over the reins to animation specialist Simon Wells (The Prince of Egypt).

Overall, Mars Needs Moms is a decent family-friendly sci-fi adventure that suffers partly from a muddled alien mythology – but is debilitated by the same filmmaking technology meant to enhance its visually imaginative setting and characters.

The film revolves around nine-year-old Milo (played by Seth Green, but voiced by child actor Seth Dusky). He’s just your average pre-pubescent kid, more interested in watching gory zombie movies than doing chores or eating his broccoli at dinner. When Milo’s misbehavior prompts his mother (Joan Cusack) to punish him with an early bedtime, the kid throws an “I wish I didn’t have a mother!” line in her face. She tears up, Milo stews in bed, and eventually he gets up to apologize.

When Milo opens his mother’s bedroom, he’s quite shocked to find her literally being kidnapped by Martians – and then, while attempting to chase down and rescue his mom, being accidentally dragged along on the ride to the red planet. Once there, Milo is befriended by the space traveler Gribble (Dan Fogler), a raucous man-child whose decades-long absence from Earth has left him trapped in the cultural mindset of the 1980s.

Initially Gribble is more interested in making Milo his new “party bro”  than helping him rescue his mom, but eventually the two form a genuine bond and Fogler’s character comes clean about the truth behind his presence on Mars. Gribble and Milo thereafter team up with the rebellious Martian Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) to save his mother from being used to fulfill the heartless plans of the Martian’s leader – a prune-faced and elderly being referred to as the Supervisor (Mindy Sterling).

Mars Needs Moms movie with the Supervisor and Ki Mars Needs Moms Review

Martian society in Mars Needs Moms is something right out of Brave New World, where the females are raised by robots and taught to maintain discipline, focus, and follow all orders without question – while the affection-craving males are abandoned at birth, deposited to survive in the physically lowest, garbage-strewn level of Martian civilization.

How this complex social structure came into being, what causes Martian infants to sporadically be created from beneath Mar’s rocky surface, why this alien species needs air to survive when it evolved on a planet devoid of the substance – these are just a few of the rather obvious plots holes that are either weakly explained, or not at all. Yes, Mars Needs Moms is meant mostly for younger viewers who aren’t going to care about the answers, but Simon Wells and his wife/co-screenwriter Wendy would’ve been better off just simplifying the Martian’s backstory, rather than go halfway with its development.

Mars Needs Mom does use the Martian society as an interesting allegory for the dangers of group think, and allowing children to essentially be raised by technology. Those complicated themes surprisingly manage to shine through, despite the muddled nature of the alien mythology – and the kid-friendly design of the film’s characters, humor, and plot in general.

Mars Needs Moms Trailer Mars Needs Moms Review

But the most glaring problem with Mars Needs Moms is the use of Zemeckis’ breed of performance-capture technology. While the results have improved significantly since The Polar Express, the human characters in Mars still look distractingly “off” and unnatural. Their facial mannerisms are never quite right, their pupils are always too dilated, and their physical movement remains noticeably exaggerated. Unlike the stylized human characters in, say, a movie by Pixar or DreamWorks, the humans here look like detailed replicas of the real thing – and it’s frankly more off-putting than awe-inspiring.

This matter proves all the more problematic for Mars Needs Moms because it puts additional pressure on the film’s screenplay to be exceptionally good and engaging for viewers who struggle to connect with these unexpressive human characters (the Martians, to be fair, actually work fine). Mars Needs Moms is far more well-constructed and thoughtful than your average kids movie nowadays, but still has its share of cliché plot twists and tired jokes that are aimed squarely at young moviegoers – not to mention, a good chunk of the film’s dialogue was reportedly improvised, and it often shows (but not in a good way).

Overall, though, Mars Needs Moms is actually a decent film for kids, who are likely to be more forgiving of its shortcomings. The film has enough in the way of imaginative visuals and thoughtful themes to tide over parents as well, and is thankfully nowhere near as obnoxious or painful to sit through as it might have been.

Check out the Mars Needs Moms trailer below:


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Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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  1. I’m not a big fan of the motion capture tech used or this animation — in fact, I’m not a fan at all. Polar express was a great story, but the animation really hurt it (although it came off best in that film.) I still wish they’d have done Beowulf as live action. I’ll probably rent this one for my daughter on DVD on a night when I’ve got something else going on (ironic considering the allegory in this one? LOL.)

  2. Sound to much liek Jimmy Neutron to me.

  3. I agree with everything you point out, Sandy.

    The Zemeckis motion-capture technology is
    migraine-inducing annoying distraction.
    And it has hurt Zemeckis’ work.

    Watching A Christmas Carol I kept thinking
    how it would have been a much better
    film if shot in a conventional manner.

  4. Im going to wait until I watch it before making a comment about it, but do you believe that this is the definitive sign that Cameron won the technology fight against Zemeckis??
    When I watch the movie I will review it in my blog (film apprentice)! ;)

  5. I wish Zemeckis would make up his mind about what it is he wants to be, a director, or champion of a technology which has little purpose to exist.

    As has been mentioned by others and this site, Stylized traditional animation has shown that its easier to accept and believe in stylized universes rather than trying to replicate reality, especially when it comes to human characters.

    If you want that kind of realism, do it live action and hire actors. They look real and believable because they are real people. There are precious few reasons to re-invent the wheel. Tron Legacy actually had a good reason to use it for story purposes, but it was still awkward. I can’t think of a creative reason a film like this one had to be filmed this way. Do it fully animated or do it live action with cgi stylized martians.

    • jerseycajun,

      Yeah, honestly? Mars Needs Moms would’ve been significantly better had it just featured actual people.

  6. Horrible movie for kids! My 5 year old climbed into my lap and had me cover his eyes b/c one mother was killed and another was about to be. sick! hoping for no nightmares.

    • Me, a mom, and my 12 year old boy cried about the mom’s brushes with death. Interesting how they played up how society is chucking men and boys into the trash, causing women to rule the world and finding that broken up families are horrible for society. The men and boys were raised up out of the trash and loving their children. Perhaps that is where our world will go when movies, tv and educational systems realize the huge damage boys and teens are feeling today. On that point, well done.

  7. Brought our 8 year old this afternoon. She was a little squeamish about a mom dieing but otherwise seemed fine with the entertainment. The “mom” in this story was flat-chested, masculine, ugly and angry. In the first 10 minutes she was leveraging television to force him to eat food he didn’t like. He responded with anger to which mom teared up as though she were something other then a bully. The story felt like the writers were straight-jacketed by political correctness to the point where the family had zero chemistry so it was tough to care if she would be murdered or not. …and the boy’s later insistence that he loved his mom was unconvincing. Watching was torture for me but choosing 3D will help parents get through it.

    • So if children are only supposed to eat food they like then I guess its a steady diet of chicken fingers, french fries and ice cream? I fear for you child’s health. Of course ugly flat chested women all deserve to die, well maybe just the angry ones.

  8. Eh, just saw the movie and it wasn’t so bad. Really I could care less about the whole uncanny vally effect because it doesn’t seem to bother me and I really have no idea why it creeps so many people out. But, I’d rather not get into that. Overall the story was thoughtful if nothing else and the acting was actually decent (I said decent not amazing). The messages came through pretty well too. If anything what ruined it for me was the fact that the story or rather it’s execution was too mature for children but at the same time came off as too juvinile for older audience members. The 3-D isn’t worth being mentioned it wasn’t bad but then again it wasn’t really needed. As a side note I actually prefered Seth Green’s voice performance to Seth Dusky (Manly sounding voice be damned). Really I think the film got a bit much in the way of flak for the mo-cap, but then again quite a few of these types of films don’t do well.