When one sees a trailer for a movie including a rap describing the entire plot, it's impossible for expectations to fall much lower. If any movie was to contain terrible fart jokes and end with an unnecessary dance number, it would be this one. Despite my initial feelings of dread and thoughts of escape by suicide, Mars Needs Moms turned out to be a fairly decent children's movie with some genuinely touching moments.
Milo (acted out by Seth Green, but thankfully voiced by Seth Dusky) is a young boy who has a totally hard life. Dad is away on a business trip, and super-strict Mom (Joan Cusack) makes him take out the trash and eat vegetables. Milo tells her his life would be better if he didn't have a mom at all. He regrets this statement after a couple of hours, but when he tries to apologize, he finds his mom being abducted by an alien space ship. Milo stows away on the ship to save his mom, but he doesn't have much time. He needs the help of fellow human Gribble (Dan Fogler) and rogue Martian Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) to make sure his mom can come back to Earth alive.
For a movie with such a cheesy premise, Mars Needs Moms has some surprisingly dark tones. One would assume that the Martians were stealing all of Earth's mothers to raise their young, but what they're really doing is much more horrific. Disney is a little hesitant to go into full details of daily life in Martian society, but the bits we're shown are just enough to give us a hint of the whole picture. I wish they could have gone farther and explained more about the world, but that's a gripe I have with most children's movies about dystopian societies.
The actual characters aren't terribly fleshed-out or interesting. Milo is a very difficult protagonist to identify with. He starts out as such a brat that it's hard to feel bad for his loss, and his development is shaky and predictable. I thought I would despise him, but Gribble ends up being the most well-rounded character. Despite the annoying catchphrases and uninspired fat jokes, we learn the most about Gribble's past and see a realistic change in his character. The Martians are either militant drones or fun-loving goofs without much in between.
One of my biggest worries was the actual animation. Motion capture is one of those techniques that rarely works out. At best, you'll get somewhat robotic movements with soulless, expressionless faces. Mars Needs Moms is the first movie with human characters that I've seen use it well. The humans all have slightly exaggerated features and movements, lifting them out of the uncanny valley and making them seem more like the cartoons that they are. That isn't to say, however, that the movie completely escapes the creepy factor. Seth Green is an odd-looking guy to begin with, and de-aging him just makes him look terrifying.
Other than Milo's overall appearance, the human characters look good and express themselves well, with a few exceptions. One scene attempts to show Mom screaming in terror, but her face is all wrong and she sounds like an injured seal. There are also issues with falling down hills, which Milo and Gribble spend a surprising amount of time doing: the characters always look like they're twirling unnaturally and floating just above the surface. The Martians themselves look a bit off, but I can give that a pass- they're aliens, after all. Their children, however, are supposed to be cute, and they completely miss that mark, looking more like bizarre rodents that I want to crush with a shoe.
While the majority of the movie is only somewhat touching, one scene in particular pulls all the emotional stops, showing exactly what a mother will do for her child. The normal reaction to this would just be to feel some compassion for the characters, but since I have ovaries, that means I cried. Like, full on tears-streaming-down-the-cheeks cried. I thought that any crying I might do at this movie would be about how fate had led me to watch such an abomination, so I suppose I should thank the horrible trailers for allowing me to be alone in the theater while wiping my shameful tears.
An adult looking for a good Disney movie won't find it here, but if you're fighting over who has to take the kids to see this one, you might as well go for it as a family. Maybe you'll get lucky and Little Timmy will learn that being a brat will make aliens kidnap and murder his sole caretakers. As for whether or not to shell out the extra money for 3D, I wouldn't recommend it. There weren't any extraneous 3D effects, and while the 3D did add some depth, it wasn't terribly noticeable. Since the movie is absolutely bombing, it probably won't be in theaters long, but it's really more of a rental anyway.