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.