By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Mars Needs Moms is the odd title. The unstated second half? Almost As Much As We Do.
Nine-year-old Milo (“acted by” Seth Green, voiced by Seth Dusky) thinks he resents all the demands that his mom, voiced by Joan Cusack, puts on him. He even has the nerve to say out loud during an unpleasant disagreement with her that he’d be better off without her.
Well, he’s about to have another think coming. And then some.
Because on that otherwise ordinary night, his mom is abducted by Martian commandos, who want to bring her maternal instincts to their planet, where the mom-less Martian young are raised by robots.
Instinctively coming to her rescue, Milo stows away aboard their spaceship when they exit Earth and head back to Mars.
On the Red Planet he meets a tech-savvy, childlike (for reasons we’ll soon learn) grown-up earthling named Gribble, voiced by Dan Fogler — apparently the only other human in residence — who controls an underground boy-cave not unlike Milo’s room at home.
Together, they attempt to rescue Milo’s mom with the help of a rebellious female Martian called Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) who refuses to abide by the rules of the autocratic Martian leader (Mindy Sterling).
Director Simon Wells also directed or co-directed such animated adventures as The Prince of Egypt, Balto, and An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, as well as the live-action The Time Machine. He’s the great-grandson, it just so happens, of science fiction writer HG Wells, and he co-wrote the script with his wife, Wendy Wells, based on her story, itself based on the best-selling picture book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author-cartoonist Berkeley Breathed.
Wells employs the new-and-improved performance capture process that director Robert Zemeckis (who served as a producer on this project) used to such advantage in The Polar Express. It allows the performances of the actors to be captured digitally with computerized cameras and then translated into animated images.
The story may be on the thin side — and a trifle preachy, at that — but the photorealistic animation registers as an impressive visual treat, and there are moments of surprisingly pure emotionality that transcend the adventure.
Often animated flicks entertain kids while moving the parents in attendance. This one just might operate in the opposite way: that is, speaking to the emotional core of children while merely bemusing the grownups.
The actor who might have made the film triumphant but doesn’t is Fogler, playing the manic motormouth, Gribble. The script would seem to afford him the opportunity to be funny, charming, and eventually moving in a juicy, crucial, scene-stealing role.
But Fogler is so far over the top and obnoxious most of the way through that he makes it near impossible for us to care, cheer, or root for him.
But why quibble about Gribble? We’ll abduct 2½ stars out of 4 for the diverting PG-rated animated flick about good old mothering expertise, Mars Needs Moms. After sitting through this cautionary tale, your kids just might feel a bit differently about the broccoli on their plates. To say nothing of the mom pleading with them to finish it.