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.