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'Mars Needs Moms' needs more humor

Ki, voiced by Elisabeth Harnois, is a Martian graffiti artist in the new Disney movie Mars Needs Moms. 

Walt Disney Studios

Ki, voiced by Elisabeth Harnois, is a Martian graffiti artist in the new Disney movie Mars Needs Moms. 

You'll want to stay through the closing credits of the new motion-capture animated adventure Mars Needs Moms, a film from the people who gave us The Polar Express. The credits include four minutes of clips of the real-live cast of the film — Seth Green, Joan Cusack and Dan Fogler among them — wearing motion-capture suits, with dots covering their faces so that the sensors can digitally mimic their movements, actions and facial reactions as they act out what's going to be animated.

It's fascinating and also the lightest and funniest part of this film, based on a novel by Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed.

Cute characters drive this tale, a movie more interested in action beats than in big laughs.

Milo (voiced by 11-year-old Seth Dusky, though "acted" by Green) hates taking out the trash and won't eat his broccoli. And when Mom (Joan Cusack) lays down the law — "No broccoli, no TV" — he revolts.

"My life would be so much better if I didn't have a mom at all," he says.

Milo, who looks to be about 11, learns a big life lesson with that. Words can wound. He makes his mom cry.

Imagine his guilt when, a few hours later, she's abducted by aliens. He scrambles after her and learns an awful secret — Mars needs moms. And not just any moms — good moms. Ones who lay down the law and teach their children respect, discipline, manners and values.

Milo is at a loss about how to rescue Mom until he himself is saved by Gribble, a nerd played by Dan Fogler. Gribble stowed away to Mars just as Milo did and has survived, built robots and filled his own junkyard lair with hi-tech gear.

Milo has mere hours to convince Gribble to help rescue his mother before her brain is cooked, hours to find and meet a Martian graffiti artist (Elisabeth Harnois) in revolt against the regimented matriarchy of Mars.

Director Simon Wells can handle digital chases, shoot-outs and such. But laughs? He doesn't do well with the ones the script sets up.

There's a subtext here, too. Plainly, Breathed, the author, has some mommy issues he was working out — women running a planet are too busy to nurture their own babies.

It all makes for an intricate — if slow and somewhat humor-starved — early Mother's Day present in which a boy learns just how much his mom means to him. Mars needs moms, but Milo needs Mom even more.


Mars Needs Moms

Cast: The voices of Seth Dusky, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler and Elisabeth Harnois

Director: Simon Wells

Running time: 1:29

Rating: PG for sci-fi action and peril

The Times does not grade moves its critics don't review.

'Mars Needs Moms' needs more humor 03/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 11, 2011 7:24pm]
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