Forgotten Films: Mars Needs Moms (2011)
This is the 79th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
I have been a big fan of the work produced by Berkeley Breathed ever since some friends showed me some work he did in THE DAILY TEXAN newspaper on the UT campus. That material was called The Academia Waltz and it was funny. That later morphed into Bloom County which I think is one of the funniest newspaper strips ever, right alongside The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Doonesbury.
In addition to Bloom County and its follow-up Outland, Breathed has also produced a number of children’s picture books. One early title A WISH FOR WINGS THAT WORK was made into a Christmas special with Opus the penguin wishing to fly. It was moderately successful.
So, when Mars Needs Moms, based on another of his books, was announced I was hopeful. Robert Zemeckis, who has made some good films, was producing. But then the rumors started. They were going to use the motion capture animation style used in The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, neither or which I was very fond of. But still, it was Breathed.
Then the film appeared to miserable reviews and poor box office. It lost in the six digit range of dollars. But it was Breathed. And I remembered how poorly John Carter was received. It was a Disney film, too. So I had hope.
I watched this one the other day. The basic story was there. Milo (acted by Seth Green but voiced by Seth Robert Dusky), a young boy, awakes one night to find Martians are kidnapping his mother (voiced by Joan Cusak). He manages to hitch a ride on the spaceship and save her, returning home safely. Unfortunately, that very basic storyline will not support an 88 minute movie. You might get a 30 minute TV special by stretching a little. But for four times that length (the 30 minutes is really 22 these days), you have to add a lot of story, action and characters. Which is what director and screenwriter Simon Wells and his co-writer Wendy Wells did. Unfortunately the whimsy that is Breathed’s did not come through from this screenplay.
The new story features Gribble (voiced by Dan Fogler) who rescues Milo and clues him in about the Martian matriarchy and tells him to forget about his mom because she is already lost. He would rather play video games and sneak around. The Martians have established a matriarchal society, throwing male babies into the trash and raising females to be warriors with the help of robots. They kidnap successful Earth mother’s who are strong in discipline and take their personalities to raise the female Martians. The Earth mothers are destroyed in this process. The Martian overlords are evil hags. But, wait, there is a Martian graphitti artist named Ki (voiced by Elisabeth Harnois) who thinks maybe the status quo shouldn’t be so.
You can pretty well guess the story from here. Martian society is overturned, mom and Milo are reunited and returned before Dad comes home from his business trip and cute male babies and Martians are rescued from the trash heap. In a word, it is a big mess.
I did not enjoy the film, though I was genuinely hoping to. After watching I went back to the picture book. It was OK, just not something to build a reported $150 million film around. I caught it on cable and might feel like I lost that time. I am glad I did not see it in the theater and certainly not in 3D.
Have I mentioned how much I dislike 3D? That might be another column, other than to say it is a way for studios to raise the price of the ticket and not increase the movie experience a similar amount.
Check it out only if you think you must or you need to amuse kids and grandkids for 88 minutes, though they probably won’t like it either.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.