I am not a huge fan of motion capture films. I just want that to be pointed out so you know what my biases were as I went to see Mars Needs Moms, the latest effort from Image Movers Digital released by Walt Disney Pictures. It’s only fair.
Robert Zemeckis is a brilliant filmmaker, having directed or produced some of the most amazing films of the last 30 years. Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Back To The Future leap to mind as some of his best efforts. Therefore when he jumped over to motion capture films, it was a sad day. I’ve already reviewed A Christmas Carol here, and was not exactly thrilled with the results.
Mars Needs Moms suffers from the same sorts of things that A Christmas Carol did. The story is there. That’s something you usually don’t have to worry about in a Zemeckis film, even though he was only the producer, not the director on this one. The plot of Martians stealing Earth mothers to program their “Nanny Bots” is a good one. It’s a fun play on the Berkeley Breathed book.
Story is never the issue with these films, instead it’s the heart that is missing. Think of those Zemeckis films I mentioned above. All of them are worthy of being Disney films. There’s a warm beating heart in each one. When you see Mars Needs Moms, although there is much drama and emotion, there’s not a warmth or sentimentality you would expect.
Mars Needs Moms is dark, both in tone and lighting. All the motion capture films are a little dark. It’s a byproduct of a film being done completely in computer by a live action director. Images show up better on the computer screen, but on the big screen they are sometimes hard to make out.
It’s the tone, though, that makes this one so hard to take. This is a family film, right? And while it’s understandable that the mother (played by Joan Cusack) is in danger throughout, it’s very heavy handed. My son was bawling at the movie when one of the characters revealed the death of his mother in a flashback. While I commend the filmmakers for touching something on an emotional level in a 9-year-old boy, is that what you want when taking your kids to the movies?
The film has a good story arc and manages to tell the story in a utilitarian way. Unfortunately, though, it’s very hard to connect to the characters. Gribble, the crazed longtime resident of Mars, is probably the easiest to connect to, but the bad Jack Black impression done by Dan Fogler makes it really difficult to sympathize with him. All in all, Mars Needs Moms is a good premise and good storytelling but needs a little more heart to make it a great film.