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Mars Needs Moms (2011)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/9/2011

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/11/2011

There have been many movies about people driven to ruin by obsession. Be that money, power, or love, we've seen plenty of films where a person's desires ruined their lives. So, isn't it ironic that Robert Zemeckis' obsession with motion-capture animation might ruin his movie career? Beginning with The Polar Express in 2004, Zemeckis has been behind five feature-length motion-capture films, and they've all been expensive. However, only two of those have made money at the box-office. His latest, Mars Needs Moms, only made back $21 million on an estimated budget of $150 million. Does this spell the end of Zemeckis' obsession?

Mars Needs Moms introduces us to Milo (performed by Seth Green, voiced by Seth Dusky), a boy who doesn't like obeying his Mom (voiced by Joan Cusack), which cause her to be very strict. The Martians observe this activity and decide to kidnap Mom. Milo observes this and hitches a ride on the spaceship. Once on Mars, Mom is taken away and Milo is placed in a cell. He escapes and follows a voice down a garbage chute. At the bottom, he meets a fellow human named Gribble (voiced by Dan Fogler). After Milo explains his situation, Gribble agrees to help. They make their way into the main building, where they meet Ki (voiced by Elisabeth Harnois), a Martian who has defied The Supervisor (voiced by Mindy Sterling), and decided to help Milo. Milo is going to need all of the help that he can get, because he doesn't have long until his Mom's mind is erased.

OK, here's the good news -- With each of these films, the animation improves. While CG animation has excelled at creating whimsical creatures, it's always been challenged when it comes to making humans. Who could forget the "zombies" in The Polar Express? With Mars Needs Moms, the process has clearly taken another leap forward. The characters are very detailed and the eyes no longer have that hollow, dead look. We can actually see the real actors' facial features at times. On top of that, the backgrounds and "props" are very detailed as well.

And that's where the positive things about Mars Needs Moms come to an end. Continuing with the discussion of the animation, good animation can only get you so far. The character design here is awful. I get that the goal here was to make things as realistic as possible (while remaining in the sci-fi realm), but even then, the characters could look appealing. The Martians aren't cute in the slightest, and look like satyrs who have gotten bad facelifts. As noted above, the human characters have a realistic look to them, but they simply aren't engaging, especially Gribble. It's a real toss-up here -- if the movie weren't so technically impressive, it could easily be called ugly.

These issues may be forgivable if there were anything to like about the story. Mars Needs Moms is based on a 40-page picture book by Bloom County creator Berkely Breathed. I haven't read the book, but I can only assume that Co-writers Simon Wells and Wendy Wells have added a great deal to the original story. The result is a movie which seems to keep going and going, but never goes anywhere. The beginning and ending are fairly clear but, but the mid-section of the film is incredibly murky. It takes too long to learn Gribble's backstory, and even then, it's too vague. The whole idea for why Mom was kidnapped is hard to swallow and isn't satisfying. And wait until you see Ki's motivation for being a rebel. To put it mildly, I was stupified by it.

The real test of any movie like this is a kid's response, and my children left the room after only a few minutes...and this was after they had explained that they had no interest in seeing the movie. The lesson here for Robert Zemeckis is simple -- before you sink a fortune into a movie, make sure that the story is solid. The motion-capture animation has grown by leaps and bounds, and I feel certain that it could create a great movie, but Mars Needs Moms nearly sets things back to the beginning.

Mars Needs Moms has what appears to be a Carolina Panthers jersey, but I think it's actually a Detroit Lions jersey on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. In short, this transfer looks awesome, and is nearly flawless. The colors look great and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very impressive and even this 2D version has a nice amount of depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which run at 48 kHz and an average of 5.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and help to illustrate actions occurring off-screen. The surround sound effects really come to life during the action scenes, and the audio moving from the front to the rear channels feels authentic. The subwoofer effects, most notably spaceship engines, provide a nice rumbling.

The Mars Needs Moms Blu-ray Disc is surprisingly short on extras. The film can be watched in "Life on Mars: The Full Motion-Capture Experience" mode, which contains an introduction from Writer/Director Simon Wells, Dan Fogler, and Seth Green. These three also provide AUDIO COMMENTARY during this mode, which features a picture-in-picture window which allows us to see the actors performing their parts on-set. This allows us to see how the whole movie was acted out by performers, which was then translated into CG animation. The Disc features seven DELETED SCENES which run about 28 minutes, including introductions by Wells. These scenes are in various stages, some are completely finished, while others are simply the motion-capture actors. "Fun With Seth" (2 minutes) shows the actor goofing around on-set, while the other actors talk about his antics. (What's up with Seth's mohawk?) "Martian 101" (3 minutes) has the actors talking about the weird language used in the film, and how it was performed.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long