“Mars Needs Moms” did not do well financially in its first week of release. It was deemed a flop by many media sources because of its reported $150 million budget and measly $7 million opening weekend. I’ll provide my amateur speculation about why the movie failed in a bit. But, first, let me just say that it’s not a bad movie. It is, in fact, fun.
The central character of “Mars Needs Moms” is a little boy named Milo. Milo gets angry one night after his mom tells him to eat his broccoli before he can watch TV. When he refuses, his mother sends him to bed. Milo then says something to his mom which is not very nice. He later regrets hurting his mother’s feelings, but when he goes to apologize, Martians have taken her away from her bedroom. Milo chases after them and stows away on their space ship just before it takes off. Mars is in need of moms–and not just any moms. They need moms who know how to properly raise and discipline children. But, in a sinister twist, the Martians plan to steal the mind of Milo’s mom and implant her abilities into robots (who will then help raise the Martian babies). Milo sets off on a race against time to save his Mom. Along the way, he meets of couple of colorful characters, and he might just gain a deeper appreciation for his mom.
“Mars Needs Moms” is based on a children’s book of the same name written by “Bloom County” comic creator Berkeley Breathed. Breathed says the book was inspired by a real life argument at the dinner table after his wife asked their son (also named Milo) to eat his brocoli. Milo evidently said some not-so-nice things about his mom that night. So Breathed wrote the book to use as a parable with his son, to teach him how special mothers really are.
The film was directed by Simon Wells (“The Time Machine.”) Wells, who is the great-grandson of H.G. Wells, previously worked as a storyboard artist on several other films including “Madagascar” and “Shrek 2.” He co-wrote the “Mars Needs Moms” screenplay with his wife, Wendy Wells. The movie was produced by Robert Zemeckis (“Forest Gump,” “Back to the Future,” “Contact”) using a special technology for animation called “performance capture” or “motion capture.” This same technique has been used in “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf,” “Monster House,” as well as “Avatar” and “Lord of the Rings.”
Actor Seth Green (“Family Guy,” “Austin Powers”) provides the motion capture performance for Milo; while child actor Seth Dusky provides the voice. Joan Cusack (“Working Girl,” “Toy Story 3”) portrays Milo’s Mom. Dan Fogler (“Kung Fu Panda,” “Balls of Fury”) portrays Gribble, Milo’s sidekick on Mars. Mindy Sterling (known for playing Frau Farbissina in the “Austin Powers” movies) plays the evil Supervisor of Mars.
The movie’s story is admittedly light, but the animation, voice talent and pacing are all good. There’s decent action and humor. The 3-D was used to add depth, not as a gimmick, which I appreciated. As I left the theater, a woman asked her little boy if he liked the movie. He replied, “Yea.” She said, “It was cute.” I would call the movie good (not great,) but hardly deserving of the “flop” label (well, except for the fact that it did flop financially.)
I suspect that the reasons the movie didn’t do well are as follows: There has been some audience aversion to the performance capture animation technique. The biggest criticism is that the characters’ eyes sometimes seems “creepy” or “dead.” I can’t much argue with that. The technique, in my opinion, has been used excellently in many movies, but I do wish they would deal with this “eye” issue. Second, the title (and central idea) of the movie may have been perceived as weak compared to some of the current movie competition. While I detested “Battle: Los Angeles,” I can see a 10-year-old kid choosing that movie over “Mars Needs Moms.” Come to think of it, “Battle: LA” plays very much like a first-person shooter video game rather than a movie. So I see the appeal. Finally, maybe it’s just the higher 3-D prices and a bit of consumer push-back. People will pay more if they are compelled to do so. While the folks behind “Mars Needs Moms” made a pretty good movie, they didn’t create a compelling enough reason for people to pay to see it.
Rating 2.5 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated PG, 88 minutes, Animation, Action, Adventure