It is widely believed that the red planet Mars is not inhabited, and all Earth's attempts to ascertain whether there is any life on it have come up negative. But they haven't looked hard enough, for although Earthlings have never found any Martians, Martians have certainly been observing the Earthlings, and what's more they want something from their neighbours too. This is what nine-year-old Milo (Seth Green and Seth Robert Dusky) finds out one fateful night when he's left alone with his mother (Joan Cusack)...
If Mars Needs Moms will be remembered for anything, it's as one of the biggest disasters in movie history, seeing a one hundred and fifty million dollar budget washed down the drain when it turned out nobody was interested in seeing it. The reasons for that were mused over by the few that cared (those at Disney were especially interested, as you can understand), and they boiled down to the theory that filmgoers were sick of motion capture animation, not to mention the uncomfortable nature of watching 3D movies at the cinema. Hence, this flopped.
But of course there was far more too it, and some observers felt that either the plot - Martians kidnap mothers to teach their own offspring about discipline - was either incredibly sexist as it straitjacketed females in the role of homemakers capable of little else, or incredibly PC in that it elevated the female role far higher than that of the father, who here was almost an afterthought. Well, it couldn't be both, but both sides of an increasingly cynical and politically polarised moviegoing audience found much to take against this about. The truth? As was so often, that was somewhere in the middle.
Particularly as a work that was so innocently intent on pursuing the message, "Give your mom a hug" was rather unfortunately saddled with a view that it carried some other, more suspicious agenda. Actually, more of a problem was that it appeared to have started from that moral of schmaltz and set off from there to build its story, and there must have been few kids who thought the idea of a great big sci-fi adventure being improved by taking your mother along was a good one, even if you did get to save her in the process and therefore guaranteeing a lifetime of treats and benefits of the doubt.
This was based on the book by political cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, best known for creating Opus, but little of his invention and quirky warmth survived as the design here was more a barrage of fantastical imagery more generic than appealing - that Martian look was something that really should have been rethought, as they did appear very odd, and not in a good way. Once Milo is on the alien planet trying to save his parent, what might have been more successful as a try at reclaiming Mars for the kind of sci-fi that blossomed in the fifties wound up as a lot of running around, with nobody well-defined enough to win you over, leaving the spectacle all you could fall back on. And even then, when motion capture went for the realistic, non-caricatured appearance, it rarely came over as pleasing to the eye. A glutinously sentimental ending was not beneficial either, but there were worse, more money-grubbing family movies out there (which were sadly more successful). Music by John Powell.
American director who has directed four Steven Spielberg-produced animated features, including An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and The Prince of Egypt. Made his live-action debut with The Time Machine, a big budget adaptation of his great-grandfather H.G. Wells' novel. His expensive animation Mars Needs Moms was a notable financial disaster.