Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Milo (who has the movements of Seth Green and the voice of Seth Dusky) fed the cat broccoli off of his plate and then tried to deny it so he was sent to bed without getting to watch TV. When his mom (Joan Cusack) tells him that her “life would be better if I didn’t have to play the nagging mom,” he snaps back that his life would be better without a mom at all. And here’s the remarkable moment that begins this mostly sweet little family film: Milo’s mom doesn’t respond but the camera holds on her face while tears well up in her eyes as she closes the door. Ouch. This is a family-friendly performance-capture CGI production from director Simon Wells (I vaguely recall enjoying his 1995 Balto when I was much younger) based on a children’s book by Berkeley Breathed. The movie is filled with all the requisite slapstick and bright colors but also happens to deal with a rather serious topic in a sometimes subtle and involving way. Martians kidnap little Milo’s mom and he stows away on her captors’ spaceship determined to rescue her. Along the way he runs into a sloppy human (Dan Fogler) with a tragic past that has left him stranded for a couple decades in the bowels of the Martian city. Later, he’ll meet an alien graffiti artist (Elisabeth Harnois) who is basically the Banksy of the endless gray corridors of Mars. But all of this sci-fi craziness springs forth from the simple emotional moment that opens the film. It’s a movie about learning that your parents are people too, that your words can wound them, and that just because they might punish you doesn’t mean they’ll love you any less. The narrative itself feels awfully undercooked and I left the theater with a dull sense of dissatisfaction. I can’t say I blame the people who’ve avoided the film because of its 3D surcharge, but it’s hardly worthy of its status as a colossal flop. It’s a nice, sweet movie with its heart in the right place. If there’s a 2D version playing in your area and you (and your kids) have already seen Rango once or twice, you could sure do worse than Mars Needs Moms.

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