(2011)3.5Jason BuchananWith its uplifting message of peaceful revolution and its curious fixation on Love Generation politics, Mars Needs Moms plays like one of those fateful films that simply willed itself into existence at precisely the most opportune moment in time. But as adults are noticing the uncanny parallels between the recent Egyptian uprising and the one that takes place at the climax of Mars Needs Moms, the target audience will be learning a valuable lesson in the benefits of appreciating their parents, and working through some rather complex, often conflicting adolescent emotions. Meanwhile, everyone will be having a good time joining young Milo on an adventure that takes him millions of miles from home thanks to a bevy of colorful characters, eye-catching animation, and fast-paced, genuinely heartfelt storytelling.
His mother (Joan Cusack) abducted by Martians intent on harvesting her maternal instincts to nurture their young, nine-year-old Milo (Seth Green) stows away in an alien spacecraft bound for Mars in a bid to bring her safely back to Earth. Upon arriving on the Red Planet, Milo befriends a subterranean-dwelling earthling named Gribble (Dan Fogler), who helps him navigate this strange new world, and a spirited Martian lass named Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), whose kaleidoscopic graffiti provides the oppressive planet with its only splash of color. As Ki joins her new human companions in helping to rescue Milo's mother before her memories are extracted and downloaded into nanny-bots, the tyrannical Supervisor (Mindy Sterling) catches wind of their scheme and dispatches her army of loyal soldiers to capture the rebels and keep an ancient secret buried in the past.
At its core, Mars Needs Moms is a playful adventure with a gentle, uplifting message about the importance of family. The simple yet involving screenplay by Simon and Wendy Wells does a fantastic job of defining the conflict while keeping character motivation at the forefront of the action, and once Milo has managed to stow away on the Martian spacecraft, the story thrusters switch on full blast. Thanks to a running time that clocks in at just under 90 minutes, there certainly isn't much time to get bored during Mars Needs Moms, though it definitely isn't because the filmmakers have nothing to say -- just that they manage to convey their humanistic message through a series of well-placed plot devices that don't hinder the pace of the story.
Meanwhile, the "dead-eye" syndrome that has previously dogged such animated Robert Zemeckis productions as The Polar Express and Beowulf seems to be steadily improving. The characters in Mars Needs Moms convey genuine, discernible human emotion in a manner that's not unnerving, though there's little question that the animation works best once the Martians move to the forefront of the storyline; it's simply easier to "believe" the emotions conveyed by the extraterrestrial characters since our brains aren't straining to read them from a human face that doesn't look quite human. Still, the cast does an excellent job of bringing their characters to life, and the contrast between the Martians' rigidly clean dwellings and Gribble's Gilliam-esque, junk-tech setup actually serves the story in addition to giving our eyes some rich and varied textures to marvel over. The film's most striking visual element, a colorful form of Martian graffiti executed by the rebellious Ki, offers a vivid indication that the truth will always shine brightly through tyranny, while at the same time adding a much-needed sense of color to the film's dreary, dystopic palette.
Composer John Powell's score merges classic sci-fi elements with experimental flourishes to give Mars Needs Moms a distinctive personality all its own (though silence is used to striking effect during the film's highly emotional climax), and the 3D does a fantastic job of immersing the audience in the action on a full-size IMAX screen. The most impressive aspect of Mars Needs Moms isn't technical, however; it's the manner in which the screenwriters smartly manage to fold crucial messages regarding the importance of family and culture into the story with enough skill to ensure that it all remains accessible to younger viewers, yet never comes off as so heavy-handed that it detracts from the overall fun. And there's plenty of fun to be had in Mars Needs Moms; fortunately, movie lovers only have to venture out as far as their local movie theater to find it.