While most kids are afraid of the Boogeyman, the monster in their closet or Lady Gaga, nothing scared me more as a child than being abducted by aliens. I used to be petrified of getting beamed out of my bed, probed and dumped by a UFO. (Reading Whitley Strieber’s Communion when you’re 10 years old will do that to you.) It didn’t help that the little boy who gets alien ‘napped in Close Encounters of the Third Kind was named “Barry.”
So Mars Needs Moms—a motion-capture, CGI Disney comedy—would have terrified me in the ’80s. Seth Green voices a small child whose mom (voiced by Joan Cusack) is kidnapped by Martians who suck out her brain so they can learn how to be better parents. Luckily, our hero hitches a ride into outer space, takes everything in stride (like most kids in Disney flicks) and, more than anything, wants to save Mom so he can apologize for mouthing off at her during dinner time.
The animation is fantastic, with CGI landscapes and sets that are remarkable in their realism. Producer Robert Zemeckis (who directed The Polar Express and Beowulf) once again oversees a film that pushes the envelope in animation excellence and motion-capture performance. The film starts off as something smart, sweet and with crossover appeal. Over time, though, it wears out its welcome.
The introduction of a character named Gribble is where the movie stopped being fun for me—he’s a bloated, pop culture savvy astronaut who, despite having been in space since the ‘80s, acts like a modern-day movie fanboy. The character is obnoxious and sucks the funny out of his many scenes. Like Zemeckis’s recent A Christmas Carol, the characters resemble their real-life counterparts so closely (Cusack’s character especially), you wonder why they didn’t just make a live-action movie with CGI instead of needlessly creating a 90-minute special effect.
Green had his voice digitally altered to sound like a small boy, which was the same thing done to Gary Oldman when he played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. Oldman is brilliant and Green is a reliably good comic actor, but doesn’t this vaguely creepy performance alteration just keep talented child actors from getting work? It also seems unnecessary, since I didn’t know it was Green until the end credits; it could have been Frank De Lima voicing the kid and I never would have known.
The end credits feature extensive live-action footage of the actors performing their roles on a high-tech, motion-capture stage; even though the sets are bare, these outtakes are more engaging and funnier than the actual movie.
The film is inoffensive, though I hated the cheap plug for Disneyland, the alien baby peeing on someone’s head and when the young hero uttered this line: “Mars needs Botox!” Aside from the best and most dramatic scene, which involves shattered glass, the 3D is useless. Bottom line: small children will probably love this, while their parents will be able to tolerate it for an hour and a half.