Disney's new animated comedy, Mars Needs Moms, follows young Milo (Seth Green) from his quaint suburban home to Mars – a fantastical planet full of alien life and cutting edge space technology. While Milo's Mars bears little semblance to the Mars we've come to know and love in Science class, Milo's aliens have both big heads and their skin tones suggest a popular primary color, so the setup is easy to accept. Throughout, Mars Needs Moms does not seek to break new film ground, as is reminiscent of every heartwarming-children's-space-animation ever, but innovation is not necessarily the goal. Mars Needs Moms strives to impart a deeper appreciation for that woman every heartwarming-children's-space-animation fan has in his or her life – dear old Mom.
Apparently, Mars needs moms. After baby Martians hatch from incubated soil, "nanny bots," robots infused with the essential-mothering-core stolen from Earth mothers, take care of the infant girls, while the boys are thrown into the pile of garbage that has collected outside of their community. While the female Martians compose a strict army that runs the planet, under an evil dictator of course, the males live in the garbage dump, wear colorful rags, dance, and speak an untranslatable language. It is an interesting gender dichotomy, to say the least.
Milo travels to Mars on the edge of a spaceship after he wakes in the middle of the night to realize his mom has been abducted by aliens. As Milo argued with his mom just the previous evening, it is imperative for him to not only save her, but impart his undying love to her before it is too late. As soon as the alien spaceship reaches Mars, Milo is discovered and thrown into solitary confinement. When the door to his cell mysteriously opens, an anonymous voice over a loud speaker beckons Milo down a trash shoot, through a garbage dump, and into a brilliant hideout composed of discarded metal odds and ends. Here we meet Gribble (Dan Fogler), a fellow human who claims he was sent to Mars on a top-secret mission by the Reagan administration. Little more than a fully grown child, Gribble is overjoyed by the thought of a companion to play video games with. However, when Milo explains to Gribble that he's there to rescue his mother, Gribble protests, suggesting the idea is much too dangerous.
The alien community of Mars Needs Moms is highly structured and highly oppressive. Gun-wielding females continually march in tight lines reminiscent of soldiers in Nazi Germany. The head lady alien in charge, the Supervisor (Mindy Sterling), is a tight, old, unemotional bat with limitless power and control. In fact, the images of this dictatorship were so darkly evocative that, at times, children in the audience I saw the film with cried. (Parents of small or timid children, take note: scary aliens are even scarier in 3D.)
The juxtaposition of the heartless aliens and Milo's fervent search for his mother would be more dramatic if Milo's love didn't seem stuck in antiquated gender roles. For example, when Milo tries to explain what a mom is to the male aliens of the garbage dump, he speaks as he tries to mime his words. A mother ... vacuums? A mother ... cleans the house? A mother ... washes my clothes? These are all the phrases Milo can come up with to describe his mother, until he finally settles on the fact that he loves her, and she loves him right back.
Luckily, there is one alien woman, Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), that seems to have a grasp on this "crazy little thing called love," as she calls it. A long time ago, Ki stumbled across a top-secret video of hippies from 1970s-era Earth. Hypnotized by their dialect, mannerisms, and groovy fashion sense, Ki was immediately dedicated to becoming the Mars version of a flower child. It is not long before Ki joins Milo and the reluctant Gribble on the journey to save Milo's mother.
An ode to love, Mars Needs Mom can be both sweet and nauseating in its oversimplification. However, Mars Needs Moms is also visually stunning and fast-paced enough to keep the attention of the audience. The incredulous gasps of children putting on their 3D glasses at the beginning of the film was enough to not only suggest Mars Needs Mom works better in 3D, but that a seamless, engaging adventure story will always be well received, no matter how familiar.
Rating: ONE AND A HALF BONES
Release Date: March 11th, 2011
Starring the voices of: Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, and Kevin Cahoon
Director: Simon Wells
Writers: Simon Wells, Wendy Wells, and Berkeley Breathed