Made with the same motion-capture process that director Robert Zemeckis brought to his films The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol, Mars Needs Moms is similarly dead-eyed and antiseptic, although it has a bit more warmth in the storytelling. Zemeckis is only a producer on Moms—through his now-closed ImageMovers Digital production company—but his fingerprints are all over the movie’s visual style, especially the awkward human characters. Luckily this is a movie about aliens, so director Simon Wells gets to deploy a little more creativity in portraying the Martians who kidnap the mother of Earth child Milo (voiced by Seth Dusky).
Milo hitches a ride on the Martian spaceship and sets out to rescue his mother, teaming up with another human refugee (Dan Fogler, doing his best Jack Black impression), who’s been stranded on Mars since his own mother was taken decades earlier. They’re joined by a sort of Martian hippie (Elizabeth Harnois) who’s learned about Earth culture from 1960s TV broadcasts. It’s a weird mishmash of characters, and the movie’s message about the importance of family is muddled by strained plot devices and some disturbing hints of interspecies romance.
Motion capture has come a long way since Zemeckis’ first foray into the form in 2004, but its emphasis on realism seems to hamper the imagination, and Moms ultimately comes off as more dreary than fun. Behind-the-scenes footage of actors in motion-capture rigs bounding around an empty soundstage plays during the closing credits, and it’s more entertaining than anything that comes before it.