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.
There are four minutes of clips of the live cast of the film — Seth Green, Joan Cusack and Dan Fogler among them — wearing the mo-cap suits, dots covering their faces so 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 it's the lightest and funniest part of this film, based on a novel by Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed. Although light enough in tone, packed with good messages and delivering a couple of lovely, touching moments, Mars has that plastic look that made you wish you were seeing the real Tom Hanks in Polar Express or the real Jim Carrey in A Christmas Carol.
Cute characters and a Star Wars- derived plot — rescuing a damsel from a heavily garrisoned "citadel" — drive this tale, a movie more interested in action beats than big laughs. It's not bad, and it's considerably more kid-friendly than the trippy and more adult-oriented Rango. It's just not as much fun as a live-action version of the same story might have been.
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Milo (Green) hates taking out the trash and won't eat his broccoli. And when Mom (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."
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, who lay down the law, who teach their children respect, discipline, manners and values.
Martians spy on us, pick out a mom doing a good job, grab her and use her brain to encode their nanny robots, which raise baby Martians miles below the surface of the planet, far from the probing eye of the Mars Rover.
Milo is at a loss to rescue Mom until he himself is saved by Gribble, a portly subterranean nerd played by Fogler. Gribble stowed away to Mars just like Milo and has survived, built robots and filled own junkyard lair with high-tech gear. He is surrounded by hordes of goofy, dreadlocked outcasts from Mars society whom he can understand (he built a translator) but can't communicate with.
Gribble is trapped in the '80s, which is when he arrived. He's fighting "the spread of interplanetary communism" for President Ronald Reagan. "Why do you think they call it 'the Red Planet'?"
Milo has mere hours to persuade 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, colorless matriarchy of Mars.
Director Simon Wells worked on Prince of Egypt and The Time Machine and is right at home with the endless digital chases, shootouts and such. He and his animators also deliver a couple of those big emotional moments that gave Up and Toy Story 3 their pathos. But laughs? He doesn't do well with the ones the script sets up.
There's subtext here, too. Plainly, Breathed was working out some mommy issues (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.