From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
“Mars Needs Moms” Blu-Ray + DVD
Film fans curious about how “Mars Needs Moms” became one of the biggest box office flops in recent memory need look no further than the “Life on Mars” integrated behind-the-scenes feature on its Blu-ray release.
The picture-in-picture extra can be played with or without audio commentary but shows either way the expensive and complicated process of making a movie in the motion-capture animation method that has fascinated producer Robert Zemeckis for the past several years. “Mars Needs Moms” reportedly cost $150 million to make, opened with a dismal $6.9 million at the domestic box office, and its characters still haven’t quite lost the dead-eyed look that plagued Zemeckis’ earlier mo-cap efforts “The Polar Express,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Beowulf.”
That’s a shame, since a solid if earthbound story lives under the murky, overpriced surface of “Mars Needs Moms,” which apparently was given the mo-cap treatment so that Seth Green could play a 9-year-old and Zemeckis’ ImageMovers Digital production company could make one last flop, er, film for the Mouse House. Disney previously created entertaining space adventures with traditional hand-drawn animation with “Lilo & Stitch” and computer animation with “WALL-E,” and there’s no discernable reason “Mars Needs Moms” couldn’t have romped to cinematic life in one of these cheaper formats.
Based on a picture book by Berkeley Breathed, creator the long-running comic strip “Bloom County,” “Mars Needs Moms” orbits around 9-year-old Milo (played by Green with the voice of Seth Dusky, 11), who tangles with his mom (Joan Cusack) about doing his chores and finally blurts out that he wishes he didn’t even have a mother.
Faster than you can say alien abduction, Martians under the tyrannical rule of The Supervisor (Mindy Sterling) kidnap Milo’s mom with nefarious plans to use her stern but loving discipline to program Nannybots that will raise a new batch of red-planet hatchlings. Milo witnesses the abduction and stows away on the spacecraft.
Once he lands on Mars and ventures into the aliens’ vast underground world, the boy sets out to rescue his mom, with the help of Gribble (Dan Folger), a technologically savvy but emotionally stunted human who has been stranded on the planet for the past 25 years, and Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a cheerily rebellious Martian graffiti artist.
If the storytelling was more inventive instead of just expensive, “Mars Needs Moms” could have been an out-of-this-world cinematic experience. As is, it will play best to preschoolers and grade-schoolers eager for otherworldly adventure.