Mars Needs Moms (3D)

(2011) * 1/2 Pg
88 min. Walt Disney Studios Distribution. Director: Simon Wells. Cast: Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, Joan Cusack.

/content/films/4149/2.jpgRobert Zemeckis will surely disagree with me, but the colossal thud made by Mars Needs Moms might just be the best thing for him. An ardent supporter of motion-capture-based animated films, Zemeckis has made nothing but since 2000 (that'd be The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol). Perhaps one day—when the technology is yet further evolved—someone will make a mo-cap masterpiece, but until then, Zemeckis owes it to himself to pursue other opportunities (he'll always be considered the Godfather of mo-cap). Zemeckis didn't direct Mars Needs Moms; he produced it. But the discrepancy between the $150 million price tag and its $6.8 million opening weekend proved Disney right in its decision a year ago to part ways with Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital and has fueled rumors that Zemeckis will return to concentrating on live-action filmmaking, much to the delight of his fans.

But enough shop talk. Mars Needs Moms isn't just an industry cautionary tale; it's also an affront to author-illustrator Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County) and his fans. In the hands of writer-director Simon Wells (who coscripted with Wendy Wells), Breathed's forty-page storybook becomes an 88-minute eyesore with stock characters and a bloated, derivative plot that borders on incoherence. Through the magic of mo-cap, thirtysomething Seth Green plays nine-year-old Milo (dubbed by Seth Dusky), a typically whiny American boy who takes his mom (Joan Cusack) for granted. Cue the thieving Martians, who whisk Mom away to the red planet while stowaway Milo freaks out. In desperate need of a friend, survivalist Gribble (Dan Fogler) quickly seizes on Milo, and agrees to help him save his mother from being used up and mortally discarded by the mom-needing Martians under the thumb of the villainous Supervisor (Mindy Sterling). Milo and Gribble wind up aided by good-hearted native Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), who has learned English from what appears to be a single, hippie-themed episode of a '60s sitcom.

The kernel of Breathed's story is still here: that ordering the trash taken out and broccoli eaten notwithstanding, mothers love their children unconditionally, and children should return the favor. Some will chafe at the gender roles here—action-oriented but irresponsible and dimwitted "dancing and playing males" versus sensible, sensitive, thoughtful women defined mostly by caretaking (on small and grand scales), and if the Wellses are indeed after satire, they're aiming it at the wrong, impressionable audience. But it would be a mistake to give the picture too much thought: the story is strictly a chase format designed to showcase ugly spectacle of the 3D variety (remember when cinematic kids' fantasies were brightly colorful?). The dystopian junkyard Mars and fatty supporting character are pure Wall-E, while the gleaming interiors suggest Imperial Cruiser vastness (this picture's R2D2 is a robot named Two-Cat; it's Chewbacca a native named Wingnut).

Wells clutters up the frame good, and Mars' low gravity adds some novelty to the movement. The 3D predictably takes advantage of vertiginous views and trips down waterslide-like chutes. But it all comes back to the mo-cap, which—with its creepily dead-eyed characters—still seems a fool's errand. The Disney classics aren't beloved for photorealism, and the $150 million budget doesn't exactly make the argument that this adventure is cheaper in pixels than it would've been in live action. So the whole fiasco turns out to be an excuse to let Seth Green play a (redubbed) little boy. Next time, maybe just cast a real boy, build some sets in an old barn, and have Mom make the costumes.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 4

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 8/9/2011

Distributor: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

/content/films/4149/1.jpgMars Needs Moms may have flopped at theaters, but Disney gives it the red-carpet treatment on home video with a 4-Disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo Pack special edition (also available in Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack and DVD-only editions). Banding, which affects most animated titles, is the only real flaw to the hi-def transfers here, which sport pinpoint detail, lush color, deep blacks, and perfect contrast. The 3D transfer is a special delight, retaining the high marks from the 2D transfer and adding, as promised, considerable depth. The 3D showcase scenes (like the chute to the red planet's surface and an array of broken glass) pop dramatically, and the rest enhances the computer-generated settings no end. Crosstalk and ghosting are almost entirely held at bay for a near-perfect home 3D experience. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix provides jaw-dropping fidelity and discrete separation, with powerful treatment of the music and delicately calibrated effects that deliver with big-time oomph.

A one-minute "Exclusive 3D Deleted Scene" (HD; 3D) adds value to the Blu-ray 3D disc.

The Blu-ray disc in the set includes its own exclusives not found on DVD: the feature-length "Life on Mars: The Full Motion-Capture Experience" comes with optional introduction and audio commentary with writer/director Simon Wells and actors Seth Green and Dan Fogler. This most essential extra uses a PiP window to display the original footage of the actors performing in their mo-cap suits; unfortunately, the PiP window is awfully small, and there's no "Angle" option to toggle the sizes of the mo-cap and the finished film.

"Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Director Simon Wells" (28:51, HD) include "Extended Opening," "Begonia Attack," "Adlibs from Gribble’s Lair," "Swinging Bridge," "Angry George Ribble," "Gribble Growing Up" and "Mars Monorail." Four of these are exclusive to the Blu-ray disc.

The Blu-ray disc also includes non-exclusive extras also found on the enclosed DVD: "Fun with Seth" (2:28, HD), showing Green at play, and "Martian 101" (2:51, HD), detailing the development of the film's Martian language.

One couldn't ask for much more from this 4-Disc special edition (though can you imagine a commentary by Berkeley Breathed?). Fans of the film and those looking for content for their 3D TVs won't be disappointed.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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