By: Roxana Hadadi
Disney movies are great at showing us parental heartbreak: Cinderella’s, Ariel’s and Belle’s mothers were all dead; Simba watched his father get murdered by his uncle; when Bambi’s mother met the Hunter, it shattered us. And though Disney gives main character Milo both parents in the company’s latest flick, “Mars Needs Moms,” it’s the relationship between Milo and his mother that is one of the best the company has ever provided its viewers.
Aladdin didn’t even have parents, so this is definitely a step up. This isn’t a Pixar film, though, so your mind won’t get blown by the loyalty or honesty that things like toys or dogs exhibit in films like “Toy Story” or “Up.” But for older children and their parents, “Mars Needs Moms” is a solid reminder of the importance of family and the unconditional love a mother can provide. So eat your broccoli, clean your room and don’t be a pain. She doesn’t deserve it.
Main character Milo (played by Seth Green, voiced by Seth Robert Dusky) doesn’t understand that, though, and seemingly lives to annoy his mother. Frustrated that his father can’t come home from a business trip and take him to the movies as promised, Milo acts out, feeding his vegetables to the cat, sassing his mother (Joan Cusack) and eventually telling her his life would be better if he didn’t have a mother at all. Milo eventually realizes how terrible his words were and goes to apologize, but it’s too late – his mother has been taken by Martians, who have picked her from all the other mothers in the world to raise their own children.
Milo won’t let them take off without a fight, so he sneaks onto the ship, stows away to Mars and is determined to save her. On Mars, he meets Gribble (Dan Fogler), an overweight slob who lives in the planet’s trash system and is the only other human on the planet; it’s Gribble who informs him that Milo only has seven hours to save his mother before the Martians zap away her memories. With such a short time span to save his mother from the Martians, who are led by the old crone the Supervisor (Mindy Sterling), Milo grows to realize exactly what his mother means to him during his quest to find her and bring her home.
A lot of this comes from Milo’s interactions with the Martians, who live under the surface of their planet and in a strict matriarchy. The Supervisor, who Gribble says only cares about “order and discipline,” has enacted a system where upon birth, Martians are divided by gender, with the females being educated and trained as warriors by “nannybots,” or motherly robots. The boys, in contrast, are ignored – sent to live in the trash system, where they’re taken in by freewheeling and laidback adult males. While the females seem emotionless and flat, the guys are more like hedonistic natives, wearing somewhat Jamaican-themed colors and sporting dreads.
“They’re dumb as a box of rocks,” Gribble says, and the Supervisor is mean, too: the men are useless because of all their “dancing and playing.” Their behavior is good for some laughs, as they flail and screech around, but overall the males’ depiction is a somewhat ignorant touch that is actually a little offensive. But the film’s weird misstep in that character development is one of its only flaws, as the rest of it is pretty great. It manages to hit the right emotional keys while also delivering solid action sequences, as Milo strives to save his mother with alien guns, wacky gadgets courtesy of Gribble and help from a sympathetic alien whose exposure to ‘70s British TV shows have given her doubts about the Supervisor’s harsh mentality.
The film is rated PG, and some of this gets a bit scary for younger kids – especially when Milo’s mother’s life is in grave danger, and Gribble shares how he came to be on Mars – and tears should be expected. But for older children and parents, these messages about the importance of love and family will resonate deeply. Visually, the film is produced using performance capture, so performers are recorded and then their actions animated, like how Andy Serkis portrayed Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” blockbusters. This gives more realism to the characters’ movements, and though the 3-D in the film isn’t completely necessary – it’s only used in a few action sequences – the film is visually engaging and colorful enough to keep kids interested. It’s nice when a film both looks good and leaves you feeling good, and “Mars Needs Moms” succeeds at each. For younger kids, the battle scenes and familial separation may be too much – but for Disney, which too often gives us characters who have to struggle through unstable family lives, it’s nice to finish up a movie without any lasting strife.