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."
Four minutes of clips show the real-live cast of the film – Seth Green, Joan Cusack and Dan Fogler among them – wearing mo-cap suits with dots covering their faces so sensors can digitally mimic their movements, actions and facial reactions as they act out what’s going to be animated.
It’s fascinating and also the lightest and funniest part of this film based on a picture book by “Bloom County” creator Berkeley Breathed. “Mars” is light in tone, packed with good messages and delivering a couple of lovely, touching moments. But it still has the 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. It’s not bad. It’s just not as much fun as a live-action version of the same story might have been.
Milo (acted out by Seth Green and voiced by Seth Dusky, 11) hates taking out the trash and won’t eat broccoli. When Mom (Joan 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.”
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.” Not just any moms – good moms.
Martians spy on us, pick out a mom doing a good job and grab her so they can use her brain to encode their nanny robots. The robots raise baby Martians miles below the surface of the planet.
Milo is at a loss about how to rescue Mom until he is saved by Gribble, a portly subterranean nerd played by Dan Fogler. Gribble stowed away to Mars just like Milo and has survived, built robots and filled his own junkyard lair with high-tech gear.
Gribble is trapped in the ’80s, which is when he arrived. He’s fighting “the spread of interplanetary communism” for Ronald Reagan.
Milo has mere hours to convince 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 his animators 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 the author has mommy issues to work out – women running a planet are too busy to nurture their own babies.
It all makes for an intricate yet slow and somewhat humor-starved early Mother’s Day present.
Mars Needs Moms
* * *
Director: Simon Wells
Cast: The voices of Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler and Elisabeth Harnois
Running time: 1:29
Rating: PG; sci-fi action and peril