Mars Needs Moms started with an excellent pedigree, it was after all based on a terrific children’s book written and illustrated by the great Berkeley Breathed of Bloom County fame. It was picked up by Disney and produced by Robert Zemeckis as an animated feature using his ImageMovers Digital companies technology. The film was incredibly expensive to make and did not perform at the box office, it now arrives on Blu-ray as a flawed movie in a beautiful package.
Before we dig into the story of Mars Needs Moms the technology behind the film needs to be explained a little bit. ImageMovers Digital uses a process similar to rotoscoping where they film their actors performing each scene while they wear capture suits and cameras record their facial expressions. They then take the footage and CG animate on top of the live actors, this creates an eerily realistic looking representation on screen. In this case all of the voice actors also played the roles physically, except for the lead character of Milo. Milo is played by Seth Green and when they animated him they altered him to look 10 years old. He was then voiced by an actual 10-year-old named Seth Dusky as Green’s voice sounded too mature.
The Story of Mars Needs Moms is relatively simple (it is after all based on a 40-page children’s book), the children of Mars are raised by Nanny Bots that need a new Mom template every generation and they search Earth for suitable matches. The film starts with a group of Martians led by the Supervisor (Mindy Sterling) scanning Earth for Moms that keep a firm reign on their children. During their scan they spot Milo and and his Mom (Joan Cusack) interacting. Milo is unhappy as he believes his mother is unfair to him and makes him do too much. This seems perfect to the aliens and they decide to take her for the template. Before she is taken Milo fights with her and says he wishes she wasn’t around, once she is abducted Milo realizes how much he loves her and gives chase.
Milo manages to get aboard the ship and travels to Mars. He manages to steal a suit and escapes the entirely female force of Martians on the surface of the planet. He manages to find a human on the planet named Gribble (Dan Fogler) who lets Milo know that his mom will be used as a template for the Nanny Bots and the process will kill her. Milo jumps to action and attempts to rescue his Mom. On the way the meet a fun loving and quirky rebel Martian name Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) and discover a tribe of male Martians that live in the underground garbage area of Mars. Turns out the males are discarded and only females are kept above ground to be raised by the Nanny Bots, I guess males can’t be trained?
Mars Needs Moms is a weird kids movie, the book is bittersweet and ends as you expect without destroying your heart in the process, the movie version doesn’t seem to care about your feelings. There is a scene late in the film that had my six-year-old child crying so hard he ran from the room, that to me is a sign that you failed in your mission. This is indicative of many elements of Mars Needs Moms. They try very hard to send a message about family, about cultures and about friendship and come away with mixed results. Gribble is selfish at the start, the Supervisor is never truly explained and Ki is inserted as a convenient escape method and unconventional love interest.
The animation method is also a very odd choice, using the creepily not quite perfectly realistic animation style was very expensive and not needed at all. The book had a fantastic, vibrant and stylish look that would have translated well in an animated feature, but instead they went with the ImageMovers Digital look. To be fair the end result is a movie that does look fantastic (especially the aliens) but the humans are slightly off putting and could have been better represented with live action or stylized CG.
At the end of the day Mars Needs Moms has problems but it is a fairly fun adventure once you get past those issues. The action is fast paced, the world looks fantastic and despite a heart wrenching sequence that traumatized my son it ends in a satisfying way that made him forgive the movie in the end. I always judge animated movies by my kids reactions to them and they enjoyed Mars Needs Moms for what it was and I have to admit I did as well.
As mentioned many times Mars Needs Moms was created using the ImageMovers Digital technology and the result is a pretty fantastic looking movie. The humans walk the line of the Uncanny Valley and range from looking great to looking creepy but the aliens and environments are some of the best looking I have seen in animated feature and translate exceptionally well in this Blu-ray transfer.
Presented in a stunning 1080p AVC codec with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio Mars Needs Mom could be a demonstration Blu-ray for you HD setup. The transfer is as close to perfect as they come, black levels are deep enough to fall into, textures are nearly three dimensional and colors are flawless. There was no artifacting, noise or flaws at all that I could see, quite simply the image is stunning and a huge selling point for this release.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track for Mars Needs Moms is excellent and actually serves to improve a flawed film. The audio experience is incredibly immersive with the surround field used to great effect for off screen dialog, ambient noise and action sequences. The subwoofer gets a great workout in the action heavy scenes but never seems too overbearing. Dialog for the most part is handled very well but in a few instances I found it to be too low in light of the action going on around the conversations. This was rare but noticed by my whole family as we had to turn it up. Aside from those rare instances the audio track is very well represented and immersed us deeper into the movie as a result.
Mars Needs Moms doesn’t come with a large amount of extras but the ones available do the job and add some depth to the experience. Of note is the Picture in Picture bonus view that gives a nice look at the capture and animation process. A detailed documentary on the complex process would have been great but sadly was not included.
- Life on Mars: The Full Motion-Capture Experience (HD): In a weird move Disney added a full audio commentary featuring writer/director Simon Wells and actors Seth Green and Dan Fogler that can only be listened to while viewing the Picture in Picture experience. It is not a big deal but rather odd that you cannot separate the two. The audio commentary is actually quite enjoyable and the Picture in Picture experience is fairly interesting showing all stages of the process from motion capture to animatics, then animation. The commentary can be disengaged and if you do so the PiP experience causes the voice of Milo to be Seth Green (as it was originally) instead of Seth Dusky. Again odd choices, but enjoyable notheless.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 29 minutes): Writer/director Simon Wells introduces seven deleted scenes, some with animatics, other have full animation in place. None are exceptionally memorable.
- Martian 101 (HD, 3 minutes): The director and cast discuss the Martian language they created for the film.
- Fun with Seth (HD, 2 minutes): Short but funny segment showing Seth Green fooling around on set.
The Final Word
Mars Needs Mom isn’t a terrible movie, it had great potential but ultimately became an average film because it suffered from it’s own ambitions. The story never became coherent, the animation style didn’t quite work and Seth Green as a kid came off as creepy at times. Thankfully the presentation is excellent with an exceptional audio and video transfer that improves the overall quality of the movie.