Friday, March 11, 2011

Mars Needs Moms

Review by Pete Roche

Like many suburban adolescents, Milo doesn’t appreciate his mother.  He’s too young to appreciate that taking out the trash and eating one’s broccoli are the least any kid can do in exchange for room, board—and security.  But unlike most tweens, Milo can’t apologize after snapping at Mom; she’s been abducted from her bed by aliens. 

The guilt-ridden boy becomes stowaway on a rocket ship warping his mother to the red planet.  Mom—still sleeping—is detained by an army of female sentinels led by a matriarchal Martian “Supervisor” while Milo cautiously explores their sleek, but sterile, multileveled metropolis. 

He befriends a couple misfits on his quest to liberate Mom.  The first—Gribble—is a portly man-boy living an unaccountable life in a rickety scrap metal sphere on the city’s underbelly.  He saw his own mother kidnapped years ago and, like Milo, was strung along for the ride.  Shell-shocked, Gribble’s spent the last twenty years playing video games, tinkering, and craving companionship.  He informs Milo that madam Supervisor abducts model Earth mothers and siphons their maternal instincts for insertion into Nanny-Bots, which nurture female Martian hatchlings.  Male hatchlings are banished to the planet’s refuse-riddled core. 

Milo’s other new pal is Ki, a rebellious Martian female who privately protests the Superior’s stranglehold on civilization by decorating the infrastructure with vibrant graffiti.  She’s something of a hippie, having cultivated a working knowledge of flower-power from downloads of Earth television programs from the sixties.

The Superior considers males unreliable, says Ki, and therefore unnecessary.  As a result of their exile, Mars is controlled by laser-toting, hippo-hipped females whose parenting skills are so deficient their young are reared by automaton surrogates.  Their Y-chromosome counterparts roam the junkyards.  The concept of “family” is nonexistent, and it’s all the Superior’s doing.  Naturally, our protagonists decide to rectify the situation while rescuing Milo’s mom.
 
MARS NEEDS MOMS is a peculiar gem from the folks who brought you BACK TO THE FUTURE, BALTO, and POLAR EXPRESS. The Disney Digital 3D animation is mind-blowing (especially in IMAX) and the action is almost constant.  Milo must acclimate to Mars’ lower gravity, which allows him to leap like Superman—but renders him clumsy without a ballast belt.  However, the story itself (based on a picture book by Bloom County creator Berke Breathed) is downright disturbing.  Several sequences will frighten younger viewers: a man faces a firing squad and at least one Earth mom is permanently disintegrated, while another nearly suffocates in the thin atmosphere. Scaring children with orphan-hood and death probably isn’t the best way for director Simon Wells to sell them on “the love thing.” 

Milo does have a father, but he’s conveniently called away on business and doesn’t figure in the adventure.  And though this story celebrates motherhood (and parents in general), moms in the audience might take offense at the old-school division of labor.  The film suggests women alone are responsible for all the household cleaning and cajoling on Earth—which perhaps too neatly explains why Mars doesn’t need Dads.  2 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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