Whereas other film-makers are driven to explore certain themes or character archetypes or genres, what seems to get Robert Zemeckis out of bed every morning artistically is the tech: How can this or that new special effects technique be used to tell a story that’s never been told? And while I personally don’t think that’s necessarily the greatest starting point for telling a story, fair is fair, it’s lead Zemeckis to create some truly fantastic films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future trilogy and also movies that people insist on thinking are fantastic, like Forrest Gump and Cast Away.
Robert Zemeckis is a true film-making pioneer. And by “pioneer” I mean “person who goes to strange new places that it might have been better for all involved if he’d stayed at home”. Specifically, with his 2004 film The Polar Express he discovered the Uncanny Valley and liked it so much he decided to build a cabin and the spend the rest of his career there. Today’s movie is part of a sequence of Zemeckis directed and/or produced movies that used the gimmick of taking famous actors and slathering them in digital paint to create something that eschews the believability of live action while also avoiding the tedious charm and inventiveness of animation (I know, right? Isn’t that the dream?). Seriously though, I am genuinely agog at the amount of time and money Zemeckis has spent on something that could never be anything other than the worst of both worlds. Motion capture can be a wonderful tool, sure, and many films make excellent use of it. But Zemeckis seems to want this one tool to be the whole movie. It’s like he’s trying to build a house entirely out of spanners. It would be pointless, as there are far better materials to build a house out of and a spanner house would be ugly, cold and utterly unsuited for actual human beings so I think this metaphor is doing trojan work.
In case I’m being a little too subtle up in here, Mars Needs Moms is a bad, bad, bad film. It’s the kind of movie that legendary film critic Pauline Kael would have referred to as “a stinking pile of the devil’s ass biscuits”.
The movie begins on Mars, the Niles to Earth’s Frasier. A Martian named Ki is watching baby Martians being born, which consists of them being popped out of the very surface of the planet like little furry zits. And already I have so many questions that they are clustering around this movies like flies on a turd.
If the Martians reproduce by just being spontaenously generated from the surface of the planet, why are there still male and female Martians? Is it just the Martians or does all life on this planet reproduce this way? Is this why we never see any other native lifeforms? How can you have a single species ecosystem? OH GOD THEY’RE CANNIBALS AREN’T THEY?!
Now you might be saying “Mouse. Chill. It’s a movie named Mars Needs Moms based on a picture book for five year olds. Scientific rigour is probably not what they’re going for”. And sure, I’d be willing to overlook it if this movie had a scintilla of whimsy or innocence but, oh my oh me, this is not that kind of movie. It may think it is (the tone they were going for is actually really hard to pin down) but rest assured, this movie is a nasty, mean sonuvabitch and if you want whimsy or innocence you just keep on looking. Ki watches the babies and appears to be getting a little broody, but she’s interrupted by her supervisor…*checks imdb*…are you frucking kidding me?
SUPERVISOR. HER NAME IS SUPERVISOR. SHE IS THE VILLAIN OF THIS THING AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO GIVE HER A NAME.
Okay, well, fitting. Because everything about this character is awful. Let’s start with the design.
Um okay. So there’s a slight aesthaetic issue with this design: I hate looking at it and it makes me sad, angry and disgusted at humanity. It’s the Mike Pence of cartoon characters. Supervisor is played by Frau Farbissina herself, Mindy Sterling who is a damn fine comic actor but who is reduced in this to shrieking unintelligible alien gibberish in the harshest most unpleasant tones imaginable. You’ve heard of villains you love to hate? Supervisor is a villain you are forced to hate at gunpoint while you tearfully dig your own grave. She is just awful, vile and foul.
She is not the worst character in this.
Let that sink in.
You still want to go on?
You mad fools. Very well. Follow me. Touch nothing, speak to no one. Stay upon the path.
Supervisor orders Ki to scan Earth for mothers who are good at discipling their kids and she hones in on a kid named Milo being made to take out the trash by his mother who is named *checks imdb*…are you frucking kidding me?
MOM. HER NAME IS “MOM”.
Do you know what that is? FUCKING EMBLEMATIC, THAT’S WHAT THAT IS.
I mean, the whole moral of the movie is supposed to be Milo learning that his mother is a human being and not just a live-in valet and they didn’t even give her a name. We are four minutes in and I’m going to have to send out for more bile. Anyway, our hero is Milo, a forty year old man suffering from some kind of weird Benjamin Button-esque malady.
Sorry, my bad. That’s supposed to be a kid. Y’know, I made a joke to Ms Mouse as we were watching this that Milo looked like Scott Evil from the Austin Powers movie had made his own Mini-Me. Imagine our surprise to learn that Seth Green actually did the motion capture for Milo. So, here’s my question…why? Why did they cast an actor who was pushing 40 to play a twelve year old boy? Did someone see him in IT and thought he’d be perfect and not realise that human children age? Not being glib, genuinely asking. Quote:
“According to the Los Angeles Times, Seth Green spent six weeks in a special sensor-equipped performance-capture suit while performing his lines as Milo. During post-production, the filmmakers noticed that Green was able to physically imitate the movements and behaviors of a 9-year-old boy, but his voice sounded too mature for the character.”
Took ’em the whole six weeks to figure that out, eh? Not…y’know, within five seconds of talking with him on the phone? Craziest part is, they then hired an actual 12 year old (Seth Dusky, a very nice young gentleman who’s doing his best) to dub over all this footage they had of a thirty seven year old man pretending to be a 12 year old boy.
My God this production must have been like fucking Wonderland. The cameraman must have been wearing shoes on his head while the Mad Hatter and the March Hare had an unbirthday party in the editing suite and spread butter over the B-roll. WAS THIS MADE BY CHIMPS?!
Anyway, let’s talk about the human characters. They are hideously ugly. Not “sunburnt ballsack” ugly but still distressingly unpretty. Did you ever play that game in school where you stare at someone’s face for so long that it stops looking like a face and just becomes a weird skull wrapped in skin? Imagine a movie populated by those creatures and then you will realise what Robert Zemeckis has done and why he must be stopped.
So Milo is waiting for his Dad to come back from a business trip to take him to the movies but his Dad calls to tell him that his flight’ been cancelled and he won’t make it back in time. Milo’s bummed so Mom, his Mom, tells him that he can watch “Zombie Dawn 3” on TV if he finishes his dinner. I actually heard that as “Zombie Don” first and I didn’t know if it was a movie about a zombie called Don, or if it was the closing chapter in a trilogy about a Mafioso who becomes a zombie and whose worsening state of decay serves as a metaphor for the corruption of his soul brought on by a life in organised crime holy shit that’s brilliant no one steal my idea if you do I will sue your ass so bad.
Anyway, Milo’s overjoyed but when dinner comes around he tries to welch on eating his broccoli saying that they look like brains. Mom, who is Milo’s Mom, says that since he loves zombies that should be his bag and Milo replies “Nobody likes zombies, they’re an abomination. I’m committed to their annihilation”.
Mmmm that’s some believable dialogue write there. It rhymes, just like the way people talk in real life!
Anyway, Mom (the main character’s mother) tells him that if he doesn’t eat the broccoli he doesn’t get to watch TV so Milo feeds his broccoli to the cat, who is so convincingly rendered you’d almost believe he was real.
This naturally causes the cat to be violently sick because
his mother just had enough of his bullshit and broke out the rat poison cats just don’t like broccoli. Mom sends Milo to his room and he yells at her that he wishes he didn’t have a mom which is just devastating to her. I mean, he name is literally “Mom”, what else could she be?
Anyway, in the middle of the night Milo wakes up guilt-ridden over what he said to his mother and asks the cat what he should do (the cat’s name, hilariously, is Cujo, which makes me think someone in the production thought he looked like something from Pet Semetary too and decided to drive the Stephen King connection home). Milo decides to apologise to his mother and goes to her room ony to see her being abducted by Martians. He chases after them and ends up stowing away on their spaceship and getting shanghaied to the Red Planet. Mom is placed in stasis and is taken away by Supervisor while Milo searches desperately for her in the Martian base. He gets dicovered and pursued by the Martians until a mysterious voice speaks to him over the intercom and guides him to safety through a garbage chute. This takes him to a massive garbage ump in the centre of the planet and the one shot in this thing that is genuinely beautiful and not flaming garbage.
Milo meets some male Martians who apparently live under the surface of the planet foraging for food in the refuse. This then leads to what feels like the longest scene in the history of film.
MILO: I’m just trying to find my mom. I want to find my mom.
MILO: Don’t you understand? My mom.
MARTIANS: Mom? Mom!
MILO: Yeah, my mom. No, my mom. She’s the one that feeds me. She feeds me…
MARTIANS: Feem? Feem?
MILO: Yeah, my mom. She feeds me.
(He mimes for the Martians. They mime back)
MILO: No, no, she… she…she washes my clothes.
(He mimes for the Martians. They mime back)
MILO: She washes my clothes.You know, my…No, my… No, she… she… My mom. She vacuums the house. You know, she vacuums the house.
(He mimes for the Martians. They mime back)
MILO: Yeah, she’s the one…No.no. No, that’s not it. Stop. No! My… my mom.She’s the one that… She tucks me in at night. She tucks me in? My mom?
And it was at this point, dear reader, that I actually yelled at the screen like someone at a wedding reception who’s just seen a groomsman start to have sex with the cake.
Okay: the good news. The scene is finally brought to a merciful end when a flying robot scoops him up and brings him a mysterious shack hanging from the underside of the planet’s surface. The bad news is: we’re now deep in Gribble territory.
Not since fucking Cheasel T. Fucking Weasel has there been a character in a movie that I had such an instinctive, primal revulsion to. The voice, the endless patter, the self-satisfied braying at his own “jokes”, the sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub Jack Black schtick, the smell. Yes, the smell. The character smells. Don’t ask me how. Maybe this movie is so bad it gave me synesthesia but this guy smells of rubber, cold sweat and Guinness farts. Fuck this chode.
Gribble tells Milo that he’s part of a secret Reagan era astronaut programme to stop the spread of communism to Mars which, if you didn’t grow up in the eighties, is absolutely a thing that Ronald Reagan would have done, and probably did.
Gribble is actually a kid who was brought to Mars by accident just like Milo (like, in the exact same way) in the eighties and had to grow up on Mars alone which is why he is a walking fart-sack of eighties pop culture references. He even has that most eighties of accoutrements, a robot sidekick.
He’s called Two-Cat. Oh yeah, he gets a name. Characters having names is super important.
Alright, so it’s right around here that that tone problem I mentioned really comes into play. See, a title like Mars Needs Moms carries certain expectations, namely that we’re for something very, very silly. Light-hearted. Frivolous. Dumb as shit, most likely, but possibly a lark.
But this movie is incredibly grim and depressing and I’m not even talking about the gender politics although JESUS. This is why Mars Needs Moms:
Every 25 years the planet Mars is unable to hold it in any longer and pukes up a new generation of Martians. The female Martians, who are just too darn busy to raise the infants, throw all the male infants into the garbage hell under the surface of the planet and give the female infants to robots to be raised. Because the female Martians are heartless career gals who don’t know the first thing about their natural motherly duties, they have to abduct a human mother every 25 years and hook her up to a solar powered brain extractor which provides the programming for the current generation of Nanny Bots while also burning her to a fucking cinder.
WOW. So yes. Stupid. So stupid (why do they keep having to do this? Didn’t they keep the first Mom on file? Or did they want to keep up with the hottest new parenting trends?). But also, yikes that is bleak. And as we later see in flashback, Gribble actually witnessed this happening to his own mother…No! No!
Because the movie also decides at this point to become a science fiction retelling of Stephen King’s Misery. Because Gribble is so desperately lonely he wants Milo to stay with him in his Martian palace to arrested development for ever and forget about saving his mother who is about to be murdered by aliens. And to do this, he pretends to help Milo rescue his mother all the while planning on letting him almost get killed by the Female Martians so that milo will be so traumatised that he’ll come back and stay with Gribble forever.
And this is not a horror movie. This guy is supposed to be the loveable comic relief.
Oh, but all this I could forgive but for the single most evil thing about Gribble. His catchphrase.
I mean, it’s not quite as bad as “It’s Hitlerin’ Time, bitches!” but it still more than enough to put Gribble high in the ranks of history’s greatest monsters.
Okay, so because Gribble can’t even recklessly endanger a child to gain control over them without fucking it up, Milo gets captured and the female martians are able to trace the signal back to Gribble’s hideout. The martians send soldiers to capture the legendary Alien Turd Beast that lives beneath the surface of the planet and has haunted their nightmares for 25 long years. Milo escapes and hides in the martians compound, but Gribble has been captured and is being horribly tortured, so he’s on his own. Okay, we never actually Gribble being tortured but dammit, let me dream.
Milo comes across Ki, the Martian from the first scene, spray-painting brightly coloured graffiti over the grim Martian cityscape and she saves him from falling to his death off a skyscraper. C’mon movie. Give me one character in this thing who’s not complete ass.
Oh joy. She learned English from watching television from the sixties (which would make a lot more sense if she was from a planet many lightyears away instead of within spitting distance to Earth but whatever). It gets old fast. It actually gets old before it was ever young. It was born old, like the Titans of myth.
Milo tells her that he’s looking for his mother and in the process gives her an explanation as to what Moms do (cooking, cleaning, vacuuming, wishing they’d known about the coil). So, as a hot alien chick, Ki must be instantly and irrevocably fascinated by the human thing called Love which usually leads to the human thing called Kissing but not in this instance because Milo is underage and even this movie has a floor. Instead, Ki imprints on the idea of motherly love and wants to know more. But Milo races back to Gribble’s douche-cave and finds him gone (and the world a better place for it). Two-Cat leads Milo back to the martian city where the supervisor is about to order Gribble’s execution. “Luckily” Ki helps them escape into a system of caves beneath the planet’s surface.
Gribble comes clean about the bullshit he pulled and we see in flashback how he came to the planet and tried to save his mother and had to watch her being burned to a crisp before his eyes.
I literally only bring it up because young Gribble ran out to rescue his mother with a spare oxygen helmet and when she was killed he dropped the helmet on the Martian surface and that’ll come into play in the climax so just file it away.
In the cave, they discover a mural showing that the ancient Martians also lived in nice little nuclear families and oh God, Ki and Gribble are OH GAWD…
The trio hurry to rescue Milo’s mom, who is named Mom, before sunrise and in doing so they trigger a revolution by showing the picture of the mural across the martian internet which causes all the martians to turn against their scrotum faced mistress. Milo reaches the extractor where Mom is still unconscious and he wakes her up. When she realises she’s on an alien planet she just…guys…I don’t even…she just makes this weird howl like a robot realising it doesn’t have a soul it is the most upsetting thing…
Okay, brace yourselves. I am about to give this movie some praise. There is one scene that is actually quite effective. So Milo and Mom have to escape across the Martian surface and they’re wearing oxygen helmets. But the Supervisor sees them and shoots at Milo, causing him to trip and smash his helmet on the surface (bit of a design flaw there). We shift to Mom’s perspective as she takes Milo’s broken helmet off and places a new helmet on him. We see through her eyes as Milo starts breathing again, sees her, smiles and then see the smile fade in horror as he realises she’s given him his helmet to save his life.
It’s…actually done very well. Very touching.
Because this movie isn’t quite psychotic enough actually kill a child’s mother on screen…again, Gribble remembers where he dropped that helmet all those years ago and lo and behold it’s still working hurrah and Mom’s fine, it’s all fine now.
The Supervisor is captured and she reveals that she orchestrated this whole robot-childcare based society because the females didn’t have time for raising children and the males were too busy dancing and having fun which is why they have to be exiled to the garbage world below the surface and Jesus Christ it’s like somebody bought the rights to some red-pilled reddit forum bullshit and stuck Scrotum aliens in it.
Anyway, you know how this goes. The Martians are now paired off in nuclear families, Gribble and Ki are an item (where is my trusty sick bucket?) and Milo and Mom return home. And one of the first thing’s Milo does is take out the trash by vaporising it with a lazer he stole from Mars.
And then he just turns and looks at the camera and fixes you with his glassy, soulless CGI eyes.
Too often, my friends, I will end a review of a terrible movie by somberly noting how it nonetheless went on to sweep the box office and become the most successful film of the decade and we are all doomed, doomed, alack alay.
Oh this bombed. It was glorious. This is the worst performing movie Disney ever distributed. One of the top 20 greatest flops of all time. There will be no sequels. There will be no DIsney + series.
It’s dead. It’s done. Good job humanity.
Now I just need to join the rest of the planet in forgetting it ever existed. Mars Needs Moms?
Mouse Needs Whiskey.
It looks like real people killed a family of CGI cartoon characters and started wearing their skin.
Two points. One per teste.
Supporting Characters: 0/20
You know what, I didn’t notice a single bit of the score because I was so horrified by this movie. But I actually went back and listed to John Powell’s soundtrack divorced of the cinematic atrocity it was lodged in and you know what? It’s actually quite nice.
FINAL SCORE: 17%
Next Update: 19 March 2020
Your guess is as good as mine.