You’ll want to stay through the closing credits of the new motion capture animated adventure Mars Needs Moms, a film from the people who gave us The Polar Express. There are four minutes of clips of the real-live cast of the film— Seth Green, Joan Cusack and Dan Fogler among them — wearing the mo-cap suits, dots covering their faces so that the sensors can digitally mimic their movements, actions and facial reactions as they act out what’s going to be animated.
It’s fascinating and also the lightest and funniest part of this film.Though light enough in tone, packed with good messages and delivering a couple of lovely, touching moments, Mars still has that plastic look that made you wish you were seeing Tom Hanks in Polar Express or Jim Carrey inl A Christmas Carol.
Cute characters and a Star Wars derived plot — rescuing a damsel from a heavily garrisoned “citadel” — drive this tale, a movie more interested in action beats than in big laughs. But it’s not as much fun as a live-action version of the same story might have been.
Milo (voiced by Seth Green) hates taking out the trash and won’t eat his broccoli. And when Mom (Joan Cusack) lays down the law — “No broccoli, no TV” — he revolts: “My life would be so much better if I didn’t have a mom at all.”
Imagine his guilt when, a few hours later, she’s abducted by aliens. He scrambles after her and learns an awful secret — Mars needs good moms who lay down the law, teach their children respect, discipline, manners and values. Martians spy on us, pick out a mom doing a good job and grab her so that they can use her brain to encode their nanny robots, which they use to raise baby Martians miles below the surface of the planet.
Milo is at a loss about how to rescue Mom until he himself is saved by Gribble, a portly subterranean nerd (Dan Fogler.) Gribble stowed away to Mars just like Milo and has survived, built robots and filled his own junkyard lair with hi-tech gear. He is surrounded by hordes of goofy outcasts from Mars society.
Milo has mere hours to convince Gribble to help rescue his mother before her brain is cooked, hours to find and meet a Martian graffiti artist (Elisabeth Harnois) in revolt against the regimented, colorless matriarchy of Mars.
Director Simon Wells worked on Prince of Egypt and The Time Machine and is right at home with the endless digital chases and shootouts. He and his animators also deliver a couple of those big emotional moments that gave Up and Toy Story 3 their pathos.
But laughs? He doesn’t do well with the humor the script sets up. It all makes for an intricate if slow and somewhat humor-starved early Mother’s Day present in which a boy learns what his mom means to him.
Voices: Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler.
Director: Simon Wells.
Screenwriters: Simon Wells, Wendy Wells. Based on the book by Berkeley Breathed.
Producers: Stephen J. Boyd, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, Richard Zemeckis.
A Walt Disney Pictures release. Running time: 89 minutes. Sci fi action, peril. Opens Friday March 11 at area theaters.