The Disney machine has churned out yet another one. The latest: "Mars Needs Moms" (in 3-D, naturally), an animation tour de force with a budget weighing in around $150 million. After a meek opening weekend -- the flick brought in just under $7 million -- the word “bomb” and “flop” are hanging heavy in the air.
Justifiably, I believe.
The premise is a little meh, the token quirky characters are forced and uninventive, and the motion-capture animation is just downright creepy. I didn’t like it in “The Polar Express,” and I don’t like it now.
We take you to Any Town, USA, where little Milo (voiced by Seth Green) is shown dutifully taking out the trash (after some maternal prodding).
Zoom out millions of miles to Mars, where the cold, all-female ruling class is taking note of Milo’s mom’s parenting skills. At the head of that class is “The Supervisor,” an elder who looks not unlike E.T.’s grandma. One nod later it’s decided: They will kidnap Milo’s mom (Joan Cusack) and use her brain juice to power one of their many “Nanny Bots.”
See on Mars, the children – which spring from the ground like potatoes every 25 years or so – are reared by robots instead of moms. Well, the female children, anyway. The males are sent below ground with the full-grown, simian-like male Martians, who apparently spend their days causing a ruckus, playing in trash and … hugging. Ok.
Still with me?
Back on Earth later that night, Milo’s Mom sends him to bed as punishment for not eating his vegetables. Annoyed, the young boy shouts, “My life would be better if I didn’t have a mom.” The music swells, and a lone tear falls down his mom’s cheek as she closes the door. You can imagine what happens next.
There are action scenes and gag jokes and all of a sudden, we’re thrown into what’s meant to be an emotional scene in which we learn that Gribble, Milo’s only human companion on the red planet, also lost his mom to the Nanny Bot death/memory ray.
The transition is clumsy and awkward, but once you’re through, the pace does get a little better and the story a little more engaging. Sadly, at that point, it’s a little too late. At that point your mind’s already back on Earth somewhere, wondering if you should have seen “,” instead.
The whole film feels a bit like a PSA announcement: Love and respect your Mom. Because you never know when she’s going to be abducted by aliens. Dad, too. Why not? Even if he is useless – as the elder “Supervisor” Martian lady suggests.
The film is based on a book by Berkeley Breathed. Maybe it’s best left in 2-D.
"Mars Needs Moms" is playing at the at 2:30 p.m., 4:50 p.m., 7:20 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.