A sterling example of moviemaking by the numbers, in this case a tween animated adventure yarn filled with not so exciting action and maudlin sentimentality, dooms Simon Wells’ Mars Needs Moms almost from the get-go. The film boasts an expensive-looking production and features an excellent cast of voice and motion-capture actors, but it’s all in the service of a forgettable adventure story that doesn’t feature a single distinguishing bit of action or characterization to make it memorable. It’s as forgettable as yesterday’s lunch.
Mars Needs Moms (3D Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Simon Wells
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 88 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 49.99
Release Date: August 9, 2011
Review Date: August 3, 2011
Young Milo (Seth Green for body movement, Seth Dusky for voice) has continual confrontational issues with his mother (Joan Cusack) over the simplest things like taking out the garbage or eating his broccoli. When he sees her being abducted by aliens in a gigantic spaceship, however, he rushes to her defense. He comes to learn once he gets to Mars that instead of traditional families now on the Red Planet, Mars hatches its young and then has female-oriented robots ("nannybots") do the upbringing. To get the right disciplinarian personality into their cyborgs, the Martians capture one sterling mom example from Earth and use her psyche to indoctrinate the robots. Milo gleans this information from Gribble (Dan Fogler) whose mom was similarly abducted twenty years before and who has lived in the garbage heaps of Mars ever since. Milo and Gribble figure they have seven hours to rescue Milo’s mother before the sun rises and ignites the transformation. With the help of Gribble’s pal Wingnut (Kevin Cahoon) and a Martian female Gribble names Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) who wants to raise her own child, Milo and Gribble undertake a trek across the face of the planet to reach Milo’s mother in time.
Adapting the book by Berkeley Breathed, director Simon Wells and his wife Wendy have made the movie with equal parts action and sentiment, but their action scenes are no different than a hundred other action movies, and the sentiment is sometimes poured on a bit thickly (though Milo and his mother’s climactic experience on the Martian plain does elicit the expected lump-in-the-throat). The geography above and below the surface of Mars isn’t well delineated for the audience and thus the extent and difficulty of Milo’s endeavors are never rock solid in our minds as they should be. With producer Robert Zemeckis’ widely heralded motion capture process that produced a much-better-than-expected A Christmas Carol a couple of years ago, its utilization here is perhaps more refined than in earlier films but less interesting, too. There doesn’t seem to be any clear cut advantage with this over regular CGI animation though a few of the actors like Dan Fogler and Tom Everett Scott (as Milo's father in two brief appearances) are easily recognizable in their motion captured-CGI personas. To give director Wells’ credit, however, he doesn’t draw out the slim story and familiar characters at all; the film to its credit runs less than ninety minutes.
Dan Fogler’s performance, however, echoes his shrill, overly demonstrative character we’ve seen often in movies and on television, a child-man whose loud, selfish demeanor gets softened by love, and grows tiresome after a short while. Seth Green’s movements and Seth Dusky’s vocal performance combine to make a familiar if agreeable leading character. Too bad he couldn’t have been transported into another movie with more interesting events. Joan Cusack’s unmistakable voice gives her mother character stature and assurance. Mindy Sterling’s belligerent, calculating Martian leader runs the show even in her native dialect (which isn’t subtitled, an interesting touch) while Elisabeth Harnois’s Ki, who speaks in 1970s hippie jargon picked up from an ancient television broadcast, isn’t given the proper development to become the central love interest in the movie seemingly more propitious than plausible.
3D implementation – 4/5
The film has been framed at its theatrical 2.40:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Colors are often piercingly bold and bright, and sharpness is perfection with tons of detail in these characters and settings (the rocks of Mars and the facial features of the Supervisor have about the same number of cracks, wrinkles, and fissures). Black levels are deeply, richly inky easily blending into the letterbox bars of the transfer. As with most computer generated animated material, it’s reference quality all the way with no issues with blooming colors or banding to spoil the pristine picture. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
3D has not been overused for gimmicky effect but has been well integrated into the high definition imagery. Depth of field is quite striking on Earth and especially Mars with its deep caverns and an exhilarating slide down a garbage chute that’s fun enough to replay several times (though scenes in space might have contained a bit more depth), and the use of multiple planes where action is occurring during the suspenseful moments of the movie is also very good. Projections from the screen could have been expanded a bit, but the picture does have rifle barrels, a ray’s needle, dust mites, and broken glass that come toward the viewer with a fair degree of regularity. The 2.40:1 image appeared to be slightly windowboxed on my display, and no ghosting hampered image quality.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix offers exactly what one would expect from the soundtracks of an expensively produced action film. Dialogue is sometimes engagingly directionalized but is mostly focused on the center channel. John Powell’s music blazes forth from all channels while split effects make excellent use of available channels extending the soundstage memorably.
“Life on Mars: The Full Motion-Capture Experience” offers the viewer the chance to watch the film with the motion capture footage in a small window or replacing the finished film in the full screen mode while the movie plays. Also available is an alternate commentary channel with director Simon Wells and stars Seth Green and Dan Fogler participating.
All of the bonus featurettes are in 1080p.
“Fun with Seth” shows 2 ½ minutes of actor Seth Green in his motion capture suit playing around during the production process.
“Martian 101” shows how actors Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, and Kevin Cahoon improvised to come up with the unique Martian dialect they use in the movie. This feature runs 2 ¾ minutes.
There are seven deleted scenes which may be viewed individually or in one 28 ½-minute grouping with optional introductions available from director Simon Wells.
A not-so-difficult to find Easter egg features the “Flower Power” program which gave Ki some of her hippie vocabulary. It runs ¾ minute.
The 3D disc offers “Mom Napping,” a bit of additional 3D finished footage from the moment in the film where the mother is abducted. It runs ½ minute.
The disc contains 1080p trailers for Winnie the Pooh, Prom, The Lion King, Spooky Buddies, and African Cats.
The third disc in the set is a DVD copy of the movie.
The fourth disc in the set is the DisneyFile (digital copy of the film) with enclosed instructions for installation on PC and Mac devices.
3/5 (not an average)
Young children won’t likely notice the standard action and unsurprising twists and turns of the very familiar plot for Mars Needs Moms, but thankfully for adults, the running time is brief enough to make multiple runs of the film less taxing for them. The 3D version of the film features wonderful resolution and some interesting and effective implementation of the process making those with 3D access a prime rental audience.