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).
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.
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: