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Feature FilmTalkback

“Mars Needs Moms” talkback

Disney’s Mars Needs Moms opened today. It got no love from The New York Times where reviewer Mike Hale began his critique this way:

“It seems that it’s time to admit that dressing actors in LED-studded catsuits, asking them to give performances on sterile white sets and handing the results to a team of computer animators is not a way to make a good movie. It didn’t work for “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” or “A Christmas Carol,” and it doesn’t work for “Mars Needs Moms,” the latest product of Robert Zemeckis’s obsession with motion-capture animation.”

The Los Angeles Times was equally unimpressed. Writer Betsy Sharkey declared:

“Live versus lifelike continues to be problematic for this particular technique. Despite refinements in the years since filmmaker Robert Zemeckis – a producer on “Mars” – pushed it into the long-form, storytelling arena in 2004 with “The Polar Express,” its characters still carry the Stepford look.”

I had a chance to catch M-N-M at a critics screening (there was no way I was going to pay to see it) and – Surprise! – I didn’t hate it. I’d certainly rank it next to Monster House as one of the better of the ImageMovers Digital bunch. But let me be clear, I despise these Zemeckis films for one simple reason – I cannot get past the zombie-like faces of the human characters. When I allow myself to do so, I can see the craft involved and actually think the stories and storytelling is very good. Simon Wells directed this film for Zemeckis, and it’s certainly an action-packed, visually delightful children’s adventure. But it’s so hard for me to watch the lead little boy (Milo, acted by Seth Green) and his mom (Joan Cusack). Since the rest of the characters are “martian”, I had no problem with anything else on screen – even humanoid Gribble (Dan Fogler) who was rendered almost photo-real and was less zombie-ish than the others. This might have been an incredible film, a children’s classic, if they inserted human actors into the picture. If you have no problem with the mo-cap visual phoniness of the lead characters you may enjoy it.

But will you or any other Cartoon Brew readers see it? If so, I really want to know what you think. The comments below are open ONLY to readers reviews by those who have actually seen the film. This will be strictly enforced! I’ll be very interested in hearing your opinions.

  • Would that they had simply spiked this ill-conceived film along with the studio. While Zemeckis’ trio of mo-cap movies were far from flawless (the dark, moody Beowulf was easily the best of the bunch), they at least effectively demonstrated the artistic possibilities as well as, it must be said, some of the shortcomings of this new format. Mars Needs Moms, on the other hand, is a terrible advertisement for motion capture, highlighting only its lesser qualities, from stiff character animation to clunky camera movements.

  • andreas Wessel-Therhorn

    didnt like it at all. the designs are ugly and unappealing, the story is cliched , the ‘animation’ soulless. I’m sure there were plenty of great artists on this picture, but Zemeckis seems to squeeze any bit of life out of a movie these days.Its in complete contrast what makes a disney movie a disney movie.

  • Burkiss

    Mars Needs Moms surprised me. It was a well told and exciting action-adventure story and very enjoyable. The use of 3D was incredible and the ending brought a tear to my eye. Don’t believe the shitty ads – this is a good movie.

  • D

    It had it’s funny moments and the 3D was good but it could have been better in the 3D department because the lifeless and static character designs didn’t really do the 3D effects justice. The whole storyline was very predictable and full of cliche’s and the characters weren’t all that charming except for Milo who was voiced quite well by Seth Green. In the end its another bland and ugly Zemeckis abomination. However its not as bad as “A Christmas Carol”.

    • Ryoku75

      I remember watching Zemeckis’s Christmas Carol, all that film was “Sprit! Augghhhh!! Spirit! Auughhhh! Now I’m tiny! Auuugghhhh!!”. I started rooting for the tortured old man mid-way.

  • bluelineclass

    Hated positively every last vapid, soulless, insulting second of it.

    Mars Needs Moms is without a doubt, horrifically inept, and almost scientifically offensive to every possible concept that the words “art” and “animation” could ever stand for. It is a cinematic train-wreck, and an utterly damnable waste of time for everyone involved from the staff to the viewer.

    It is the single closest thing to the literal equivalent of pure bile that a movie could aspire to be. Sour, burning, painful, and acidic in the way that it thrives on disintegrating the very notion of integrity into absolute nothingness.

    Heavy contender for worst film of 2011. Near the end of the year, expect to see this very title come up again… for the razzies.

    • John


    • Iritscen

      Sounds like *somebody’s* Mom got stolen by Martians when he was a kid.

  • Matthew Petersen

    I thought the story was good. I enjoyed it, but I do agree the human child looked like a zombie. Something was off about his face.

    This was one of those movies that I felt would have been much more amazing IF they followed Berkeley Breathed’s art style (maybe even made it hand drawn).
    The characters looked NOTHING like the characters from the book, and I wish they did, because I LOVED how those martians looked!

  • Skip

    Never been asked to prove that I saw a movie before. but here goes. First my background. I live in Marin County, go to the Academy of arts university for the Animation program, emphasis on storyboards. My personal interest in animation leads me to see as many animated films as I can. I watch the good ones for entertainment purposes, and the bad ones to assess what went wrong, and try to analyze what did not work, and how the film could have been better. Even though I have Pinnochio, Bambi, and Snow White on DVD, and even though I have seen those films a million times, I will still go to the Walt Disney Family Museum to see them on the big screen.
    As for the review. I saw the movie alone, at the matinee yesterday, because everyone else wanted to see Battle Los Angeles, or Rango, and since I have already seen Rango, (a film that I really enjoyed.) Instead I decided to see Mars needs Moms alone. Going into the movie I have mixed feelings about what to expect from Zemeckis. He has a great list of films on his resume, and have loved all of his pre-polar express films, however Polar Express, Beowolf, and a Christmas Carol (Other films that I will critique if you wish) left me with much to be desired. As for the story. I found the over all plot to be poorly conceived. Martians who come to earth to steal Earths mothers to raise their Martian children. Because the male Martians are considered useless, and the female Martians left to run everything, nobody is able to raise the Martian children, so Earth mothers are kidnapped to fill the hole. It’s animated films this that irritate me because, the story itself feels immature, and many adults that I know both, family and friends seem to have an opinion that if it’s animated than it must be for kids. This is why I appreciate the Pixar films, and the good Dreamworks animated features (Prince of Egypt, How to train your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda) so much, because They are animated films that Adults can enjoy, without feeling like they are in a theater experiencing something below their maturity level.
    Character designs in this film are as creepy, as they were in his last three animated films. The more realistic that you design your characters, the more detail that you need to sell the audience on realism. The realistic rendering of the charactors, does not pair well with the stiff facial expressions. The 12 principles do not feel as alive and well here, as any film with the the Disney name demands. In contrast Tangled was bursting at the seems with these 12 principles, and as a result I could watch that film 20 times. The most heart warming moment of this film was the reunion between Milo, and his mother, but instead of connecting with the emotional tone of the scene. I focused on what prevented the facial expressions from being a convincing sell to me.
    I get the impression that Zemeckis seems to believe that motion capture can replace the need for animators. Great examples of motion capture can be seen in Gollom from lord of the rings, Rango (See the Rango featurette on emotion capture), or Thought of you, the 2D short film by Ryan Woodward. In my opinion Zemeckis would be better off taking notes from James Cameron, and attempting the Motion capture techniques employed in Avatar. Or hiring supervising Animators that are already at Disney to drop by his studio, and tweak the animation, so that it feels right, or perhaps pay Peter Jackson for believable motion capture lessons. Another option would be to film live actors, and place them in animated backgrounds.
    Voice acting was one of the films better successes Seth green and, Joan Cusack sere good, as was Dan Fogler.
    VIsual effects were nice, but the 3D did not impress me, and I would have preferred doing without.
    The worst part about having to critique this film is that I have a friend who was hired by Ice Blink, which is now known as Image Movers Digital. He was one of the lucky ones who survived the chopping block from that came as a result from the poor returns from A Christmas Carol. a secondary reason for seeing this film as is to give him feedback. this post has helped to find the right words.
    On a side note I love this site, and I come here everyday. The only time that I have ever disagreed with you was on Bee Movie, but I do love the art of Book. Nice job on that Jerry.

    • A.C.

      Incredibly informative.

  • Karen

    It was awful, but it was better, and better looking than rango. Not saying much, but there you go.

  • Warhead

    It’s a shame, because the original book was by the author of Bloom County, whose art style has a lot of potential in animation. and yet, they drop that unique in favor of… the scariest thing imaginable.

  • Jason

    [EDITORS’S NOTE: Comment deleted because not a review of the film.]

  • dan

    [EDITORS’S NOTE: Comment deleted because not a review of the film.]

  • I didn’t care for it. It got overly saccharine in places, and for me the biggest disappointment was that it failed to capture the spirit of Berke Breathed’s sense of humor. He’s a really funny guy, and yet the movie just doesn’t connect with that. Emotionally, the only part of the movie that I thought worked well was the mom’s “death” scene. It captured that scene from the book very well. Some other things I wonder about is what if, like in the book, they didn’t show the moms face until the “death” scene. There might have been some debate over that considering the transition to a movie from a short children’s book. I kinda wonder if they could have pulled it off. So overall, being a fan of the book I was let down. It wasn’t terrible, just a disappointment.

  • Marc Baker

    It really breaks my heart to see A once great director like Robert Zemeckis produce these creepy looking motion capture films that go out of their way to cartoony animation obsolete, yet fail to do so. Part of animation’s appeal is that it has just the right mix of possible, and impossible in their style, and execution, and these films lack any kind of style to justify being categorized as ‘animation’. If your gonna make your characters look ultra realistic, why not hire actors to play these parts in front of a camera instead of having them wear motion capture tights, and make it into ‘animation’. Since the original story was from the creator of ‘Bloom County/Outland’, it would’ve made much more sense to make the characters in his style so that the film has it’s own unique look. Animation should not strive to be almost exactly like live action, and I’m glad that movie goers are bringing that message home.

  • Metallicfire

    Feel free to correct me, but if I believe I remember the motion capture in Avatar to be deemed ‘NOT ANIMATION’. This was because although it used computer graphics, the actual movements were done will real people. So what is the logic for a cartoon world, with cartoon characters, moving like real people?

    Even if we possessed the technology to leap over the uncanny valley, I just don’t see why we would want to.

    But that’s just my opinion. I like my soda cold, my TV loud, and my cartoons ANIMATED.

  • GSW

    I’ve never liked this Zemekis mocap animation and it doesn’t seem to be improving much. The film itself was better than I’d expected, but I’d give it a 4/10. I saw it in the afternoon with a lot of families in the crowd. Near the end when Milo stumbles and his helmet shatters there was a collective gasp from all the moms (and probably some of the children) watching the movie. I couldn’t help, but to laugh. I couldn’t believe it, but they seemed to be really into it. The film itself is dumbed down for kids and really panders to mothers and their love for their children to a sickening degree. Still, I didn’t hate it.

    • Matthew Smith

      I really liked the movie. I thought the story was slow and could have been told better, but I loved the animation. I absolutely love what they’re doing with motion capture, especially in the video game department. I wish they would make more adult themed movies like this. It is definately something different. Quite frankly, I’m tired of the overly stylized looking characters, and talking animals.