As maternal chores go, the new 3-D animated comedy Mars Needs Moms beats ransacking the closet for lost hockey pads at 6 in the morning. Or riding herd on math homework. Still, moviegoing moms could have hoped for more screen time from a family movie that pretends to be about them.
But the disappointing news (for moms anyway) is that while Mars might need mothers, Mars Needs Moms is most often without a sympathetic female caregiver in sight.
The message here, clearly, is that moms and family fun, like broccoli and popcorn, just don't mix.
The latest from Disney begins with nine-year-old Milo arguing with his mother about finishing his vegetables. Mom loses patience; Milo, his temper. "I wish my mother wasn't around," the boy hisses. Even as extraterrestrials cram Mom into a spaceship destined for the fourth planet from the sun.
There, she'll spend most of the movie hidden, perhaps trying to scrub the crimson stain out of the Red Planet.
Milo chases after Mom, nabbing a ride on the spaceship. Eventually, the little guy lands on Mars, chilling with Jar-Jar Binks types in a spreading trash heap before befriending a chubby, middle-aged Earthling. Gribble came to Mars 25 years ago in search of his mom, but stayed for the cable. (The planet is just getting eighties Earth TV and movie series. And Gribble has a serious Top Gun jones.)
Milo and Gribble soon go up against goose-stepping clone warriors, and inevitably escape by taking advantage of the elaborate Martian tunnel system, in the process enjoying an endless variety of thrill rides.
No homework. No broccoli. No gravity. Milo is having the adventure of his life.
And moms, here's another kick in the skirt: When Milo bumps into someone who might know where his mother is, he goes into a pantomime explaining what it is moms do: He pretends to vacuum.
Oh, it gets worse. Mars needs moms because Martians are hatched. Spring alive like popped kernels of corn. They have no discipline. Every few decades, executive headhunters land on Earth looking for a frowning housewife with a drill instructor's talent for barking orders.
The mother is then downloaded into fussing nannybots.
Mars itself is run by mean Martian Amazons.
Happy Women's Week to moms everywhere, from Disney!
Even though Mars Needs Moms isn't female-friendly, mothers looking for quality time with 6- to 12-year-old boys could do worse than book group passage there soon.
The jokes and 3-D jack-in-the-box surprises are crudely inventive. Loud and proud the way boys like them. And the film's Star Wars fetish - cute computer pets, retro-futurist architecture - will surely stir the soul of Lucas Youth.
Mars Needs Moms also takes full advantage of the Red Planet's crazy-thin atmosphere. Little boys watching Milo can imagine themselves springing about as if they're in an NBA slam-dunk competition.
A warning though: The animation here is secured by performance-capture technique, where actors' movements are digitally recorded. (The same method was used in Polar Express.) We can see the performers, Seth Green (Milo) and Joan Cusack (his mom), trapped like Madame Tussaud waxworks inside their characters.
It's amazing to see, but potentially unsettling. Green is now 37. And it may be more than some mothers can take, imagining themselves cleaning up after their "little boy" when he's crowding 40.
Mars Needs Moms
- Directed by Simon Wells
- Written by Simon Wells and Wendy Wells
- Featuring the voices of Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Joan Cusack, Elisabeth Harnois and Mindy Sterling
- Classification: PG
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