Another 3D toon, directed by Simon Wells (we’ve not forgotten what he did with The Time Machine) and wrenched from a kids’ picture book by Berkeley Breathed. It’s one of those pictures where motion-captured actors play out the whole film with dots on their faces against a padded cell backdrop and a battalion of computer programmers use the footage as a skeleton for what used to be called rotoscoping. This is why Seth Green, seen in quite interesting under-the-credits how-they-did-it footage, gets a credit, though his too grown-up voice was dropped from the soundtrack and replaced by a kid actor (Seth Robert Dusky). It opens with a gag very similar to the best bit of the My Favorite Martian movie (no one’s favourite) as we track from a rock-exploring Earth rover to an underground Martian civilisation the expensive probe hasn’t noticed, then spins out a depressingly rote fable. Nine-year-old Milo (named for Breathed’s son, not the hero of The Phantom Tollbooth) grumbles but does his chores as his overworked Mom (Joan Cusack) has to play the heavy while his off-on-a-business-trip Dad (Tom Everett Scott) lets him down about taking him to see a movie which sounds much more fun than this one (‘we can’t miss the beginning … that’s when the vampires take over the submarine’). Yes, this is still Hollywood’s idea of a real family and not a throwback to the 1950s: stressed, absent businessman father and full-time housewife mother. Milo is so upset at being deprived of a pay-per-view zombie sequel because he fed his broccoli to the cat that he wishes he didn’t have a mother, whereupon Martians abduct Mom to fit into their contrived life cycle. Martians hatch from the ground, and the spinsterish matriarch (Mindy Sterling) insists boy children be discarded onto a giant trash heap to live as happy grinch-look hippie drop-outs who like hugging and dancing but aren’t gay while girls (with triple-jointed legs but curvaceous asses) are raised by nanny-bots to be lockstep soldiers of Mars. To program the nanny-bots, the Martians need Milo’s Mom to be disintegrated, and Milo – accidentally taken to Mars on the rocket – has to run around and take back his words to rescue her.
Most of the plot is explained by Gribble (Dan Fogler), who went through the exact same story a generation earlier but didn’t save his own Mom and now lives as a manchild slacker who provides Milo with a Lampwick-like example of where he’s going to end up if he doesn’t save Mom but also wants to be best buds with him and registers as among the most irritating screen characters of all time. His trauma is that he lost his mother because his dutiful obedience to her marked her out as a suitable template for the Martian nanny bot (‘what kind of message is that to send to a kid?’). Also helping things along is Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a Martian dronette who has been influenced by some 1970s-set Earth TV sit-com to become a hippie (yet has never heard the word ‘love’) and spray floral graffiti everywhere as a subversive act. It ends exactly the way you’d expect. The process whereby Larry Buchanan’s disreputable Mars Needs Women (1964), starring (as Steve Bissette pointed out) disgraced and blacklisted-for-being-gay Disney star Tommy Kirk, has been so absorbed into the mainstream that it inspires a Disney 3D kids’ film is more interesting than anything else here. Even the lifts from vintage s-f illustration in the world-building feel more like homages to Mars Attacks! or Monsters vs Aliens (my favourite in this cycle) than nods to Frank Kelly Freas and Amazing Stories. Mars might need Moms, but we don’t need any more movies like this. The good news is that the stateside box office failure of MNM convinced Disney to pull the plug on a project everyone was dreading – Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture 3D remake of Yellow Submarine.