It's just another normal day somewhere on Earth for a young boy named Milo. He should be busy enjoying himself, but instead Mom is making him take the garbage out again. He can't even stop long enough to take in the beautiful day before Mom is on his case, insisting that the garbage must go all the way to the curb.
Clean your room! Eat your broccoli! Early to bed for making the cat sick with your despised veggies! Angry and brooding, Milo is certain that his life would be so much better without a Mom, and he doesn't hesitate to let her know either. Her hurt is obvious and he feels a pang of remorse, but Milo lets the moment slide past in uncomfortable silence, sure that he can make things right in the morning.
Who could guess that such annoying nagging would make Mom a prime target for alien abduction? From ordinary to extraordinary, Milo suddenly finds himself trapped on Mars evading irate Martians as he searches for a way to rescue his Mom. With some help from unexpected allies, Milo just might pull off the impossible, and not only rescue his Mom but profoundly change Martian society for the better.
The animation in Mars Needs Moms is wonderful. Crisp and marvelously life-like at times, there were several moments where Mom simply was Joan Cusack rendered in animation down to small habits of facial movement and body language. The Martians themselves are appealing in appearance, and manage to be different enough to be interesting but enough like us that kids can easily relate. Mars Needs Moms is beautifully fluid in movement with plenty of action to keep us occupied while the simple plot unfolds. The drab uniform colors of the suppressed Martian society are the perfect backdrop to contrast against the 60's inspired, colorful and illegal tags rendered by an anonymous Martian worker named Ki ("key").
The Martian society was fractured somewhere a few generations ago. Females now run things from the floating "cities", where all the technology is available for collecting Martian babies as they hatch from the soil. Pre-programmed Nanny bots handle all the care of the infants, providing everything except love. Once they reach a toddling stage, the males are separated out and dumped on the planet surface to be raised by the tribes of free-roaming Martian males who seem to make do well enough. Unlike the females, they provide plenty of hugs and fun along with mundane things like food and shelter.
The females, ruled by the bitter and pruney Supervisor, keep things ticking along in "the way things have always been" by programming the Nanny bots with the memories of suitable Earth moms. Moms with kids who do as they are told, clean their rooms, eat their veggies, take out the trash, etc are prime targets for abduction. Each programming is good only once for a single generation of Nanny bots. The now unnecessary Mom is neatly disposed of by incineration on the planet's surface utilizing the Sun, so Milo is working against a deadline too.
Gribble was once a boy like Milo just trying to save his Mom. Unsuccessful, he has managed to live on the fringe of Martian society putting together his own ship and needs from the junk littering the planets surface. Ki, Milo's other ally, was just another obedient Martian worker until she viewed some recordings of 1960's Earth television. Inspired by the bright colors and "crazy love thing" of the peace and love flower child generation, Ki has become Mars' first graffiti artist, and a major pain in the butt to the grouchy and controlling Supervisor. Together, Milo, Gribble and Ki discover that Martians once raised their kids together in family units, and the domineering Supervisor has been lying to everyone to keep things running as she thinks they should.
While the problems of the Martian society are interesting, I can't help feeling that making the moms of good kids the target for abduction is the wrong message to be sending to young viewers. I can see that the writers ( Simon and Wendy Wells on the film and Berkeley Breathed on the book) wanted to create some empathy with every kid everywhere who has ever been disgruntled by parental control. I can even see how they wanted to illustrate to such viewers that what parents ask of them really isn't so bad, and good parents like that should be valued. Readily apparent and even somewhat effective, I just think it is all too easy for kids to think, "Well gee, I'm really doing my mom a favor by not listening to her. I love my mom and don't want the Martians to kidnap her." Perhaps this concept works better in the book form. Having never read the work, targeted at kids from Kindergarten age to grade 3, I can't really say, but in the film in definitely felt like this aspect of the story was off kilter. Just as the family dynamics on both Mars and Earth seem to be rather out of focus and oddly biased too.
The Martian males being far more focused on goofing off and having fun is obviously a major bone of contention for the bitter Supervisor, and certainly echoes complaints I've heard women make of their own partners. The alarming amount of garbage that has piled up on Mars does illustrate the Supervisor's point pretty well though. The huge mounds of litter on the planet surface made for an interesting and potentially exciting setting in comparison to the stark Martian landscape too, and does underline for young viewers how dangerous as well as unattractive such clutter would quickly become.
One can't help wondering though why the Martians don't just incinerate the garbage as it seems to work so well on all the abducted moms. And why are the remains of Martian society on the planet all underground? Why aren't more Martian females concerned about the lack of love, tactile affection and general fun in their lives? Spoiled Earth kids, their ineffectual Moms, and largely absent Dads seem to be the norm too. Why is that? Are we meant to believe that all the good moms have been kidnapped and destroyed for generations? While this commentary on our own society is interesting, it is another point in the film that seems to raise more questions than it answers. None of these thoughts are beyond young viewers either, and were the major points that didn't sit well with me overall.
Despite these flaws though, Mars Needs Moms managed to deliver an interesting story beautifully rendered. Plenty of sympathy is evoked for both Milo and Gribble as they work to save Mom. The value of not only good self-sacrificing Moms and all the unappreciated work they do, but the value of parental units that work together balancing discipline, love and fun is emphasized and illustrated very well. The simple plot is supported by plenty of eye-catching action and some solid humorous moments. The film does give family viewers plenty of room to discuss the issues illustrated, and allows parents to approach complex issues in discussion with their kids. While Mars Needs Moms wasn't out of this world good, it did sprinkle a little stardust in our eyes while delivering some decent family entertainment. In my opinion, this makes it well worth a viewing, but not worthy of repeat viewing or purchase.
Two Out of Five Stars
Pros:gorgeous animation, somewhat entertaining, interesting commentary on society
Cons:raises more questions than it answers, mixed messages, major holes in the story
The Bottom Line:We need better storytellers more than Mars Needs Moms. The quality of the animation tempts me to raise the rating by one more star than I've given.