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Fast, fun ‘Mars Needs Moms’ lays lessons on too thick

Fri., March 11, 2011, midnight

“Mars Needs Moms” is a 3-D-animated film that shoots for the stars – or in this case, Mars.

Its craftsmanship showcases the latest in performance-capture technology (a la “Avatar”). And its story – about the relationship between a mother and son – is meant to make you weep (a la “Toy Story 3”).

What ends up on screen, however, is simply sufficient. “Mars Needs Moms” doesn’t crash-land into “Yogi Bear” territory, but it definitely doesn’t soar to “Toy Story” heights of animated grandeur.

It begins with a familiar predicament: Milo, 9, won’t eat his broccoli. He’s sent to bed upset.

He wakes up just as Martians kidnap his mom (voiced by Joan Cusack). He gives chase, barely making it onto their alien spacecraft.

The Martians have transformed the Red Planet’s innards into a vast city of towering metallic terraces and neon-lit passageways – like unused set pieces from the “Star Wars” prequels.

While technologically advanced, these aliens are terrible parents. So they kidnap human mothers, extract parenting skills from their brains and transfer the knowledge into the “nanny-bots” that raise their children. The result is fatal.

The Martians are all female, led by a despotic matriarch known simply as the Supervisor, who resembles E.T. in a wig. Her minions look like shapely Stormtroopers.

So where are the males? The Supervisor has created a high-tech paradise where forward-thinking, independent females have banished the primitive, buffoonish men even further underground.

In his quest to save dear mom, Milo is joined by two allies: Gribble, a plump, neurotic human who claims he’s a marooned astronaut, and Ki, a rebellious Martian girl who’s secretly in love with life on Earth (specifically 1960s American counterculture).

At night, Ki splashes giant graffiti on the walls of the underground city – her dissident murals a cross between Pollock and Banksy.

While “Mars Needs Moms” carries the Disney brand, it was made by Robert Zemeckis’ animation studio, which produced “The Polar Express,” “Beowolf” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Like those films, the voice actors in “Mars Needs Moms” actually had to act out their roles on a sound stage wearing skin-tight black suits. Milo’s physical appearance is performed by Seth Green, but he’s voiced by the young Seth Dusky.

While the 3-D worlds created for these kinds of films are beautiful to look at, there’s still something screwy going on with the human faces onscreen. They look creepy, like mannequins come to life.

“Mars Needs Moms” is fast and fun, but it’s also stocked with the usual cavalcade of cloying life lessons. Love your mother (duh). You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone (thanks). And all you need is love (got it).

Mars doesn’t need Moms. It needs brighter ideas.


 

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