DVD Release Date: August 9, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: March 11, 2011 (3D/2D theaters and IMAX 3D)
Rating: PG (for sci-fi action and peril)
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy
Run Time: 88 min.
Director: Simon Wells
Actors: Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, Kevin Cahoon, Joan Cusack

In Mars Needs Moms, even good kids have bad days. After one particularly difficult evening, a frustrated lad named Milo (Seth Green) exclaims in a fit of temper, “My life would be so much better if I didn’t have a mom!” He doesn’t mean it, of course—but if he doesn’t act fast, the Martians will see to it that his “wish” comes true.

On Mars, you see, there are no parents, only “nannybots” who raise children in a totalitarian environment that’s all discipline and no love. Problem is, the nannybots are only good for one-time use. So when the next crop of little Martians hatches (about every twenty-five years) they need to program a new set of ‘bots. The only way to do that is to suck the memories out of an Earthling mom. This time around, Milo’s mom is the chosen one.

Fortunately for mom—voiced by Joan Cusack with just the right loving but long-suffering tone—Milo suffers a late-night attack of conscience. When he goes to apologize for his outburst, he spies the kidnapping in progress and manages to hitch a ride on the space ship. Taken into custody upon arrival at the Red Planet, Milo gets out of jail thanks to the machinations of Gribble, another human who arrived in much the same way as Milo the last time Mars needed a mom.

Gribble is a classic case of arrested development. He must be about thirty-five in human years, but emotionally, he’s closer to Milo’s ten or so. When we learn his story, the reason is clear: Gribble watched his own mom explode in a cloud of dust, unable to save her from the Martian memory extraction machine. It’s a heartbreaking story and Dan Fogler’s voice carries the weight of it even in his manic moments. Hoping to spare Milo a similar experience, Gribble tries to distract him with all the cool things there are to do in this weird world—but Milo is determined to save his mom, no matter what.

He finds help from an unexpected source. Elisabeth Harnois is hilarious as Ki (pronounced “key”), a hippie-chick Martian girl who caught an unauthorized transmission of a seventies sitcom and hasn’t been the same since. The episode in question was about graffiti, a hobby Ki has taken to a whole new level. She’s fascinated by color; her luminous tags highlight the stark monotone of the female Martian world where conformity rules and resistance is futile. In contrast, down in the trash heap the males are uniquely colorful, dreadlocked types.

Oh yes, about the men ... once baby Martians are hatched, they’re sorted: females are assigned a nannybot while males are tossed in the trash. The Martian martinet in charge considers them worthless, good for nothing, disposable. Fortunately for the little guys, grown male Martians live quite happily in the dumpster and welcome new arrivals.

It’s an interesting subtext; this reviewer was unsure quite what to make of it. On the one hand, the males do actually appear to be as Gribble says, “Dumb as a box of rocks.” Then again, they’re the only creatures on the planet who show any of the softer emotions. It’s tempting to classify this as a male-bashing movie, but it’s really not. In the end, even the Martians agree a traditional family unit—dads included—is vastly superior to their assembly line method of childrearing.

In fact, the whole movie is a celebration of love and family. Milo struggles to explain to Ki what a mom does, working his way through all the outward expressions of a mother’s care before simply stating, “She loves me.” There’s a scene at the end when Mom risks her life to save Milo—you’ll see it coming a mile away, but that won’t stop your eyes from puddling. And when Mom assures Gribble, “Your mom would be proud of you,” even the burly man seated beside me wiped away tears.

The theater was full of children in my screening, many armed with balloon aliens—which could easily have become helium-filled weapons had the little darlings gotten bored with the film. Fortunately for everyone, the audience was glued to the screen.

Produced by the team behind Disney's A Christmas Carol and The Polar Express, the 3D element added a nice (pardon the pun) dimension to the story. There were no startling effects, but it did pull the viewer into the action. If you (or your child) are particularly frightened of heights, be advised that there are a lot of long drop shots that could be a bit woozy-making.

If your group can wait to go to the restroom, stick around for the credits. They show the actors making the film, covered in the equipment and markings used to create the computer animation characters. It was oddly fascinating to watch Seth Green bounce down a hill onto a mattress. Besides, there’s a fun dance number at the end with the cast and crew that will send you out of the theater with a smile.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: None.
  • Language/Profanity: Part of a rocket suit referred to as “butt blasters.”
  • Sex/Nudity: Numerous nude baby Martians, but they don’t appear to have recognizable genitalia.
  • Violence: A lot of close calls, near falls, and dangling from heights; shooting (ray guns) but no casualties; cattle prod applied to a backside; one (male) nipple twist used to extract information. A male baby Martian nails the supervisor between the eyes with a “shower” during a diaper change. It’s all very cartoon-y and probably non-threatening to all but the most sensitive viewer.