Mars Needs Moms

Mars Needs Moms


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"I wish the goblins would come and take you away!"

So said Jennifer Connelly back in 1986's Labyrinth, leading to the kidnap of her baby brother and a frantic race to save him. Okay, so Mars Needs Moms doesn't use exactly the same plot - it's in space, which is cool, and it has guns and floaty jellyfish, but no David Bowie and no sense of humour. This time around it's the young hero's mum who is kidnapped (or his mom, which will no doubt antagonise British kids), and rather than getting to live in a giant playground forever she's in danger of getting her brains sucked out.

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The reason? Apart from aliens just generally being into that sort of thing (as in Starship Troopers), the Martians need what is inside her head: her mothering skills, her 'discipline'. This seems odd as they are strictly disciplined themselves. Indeed, they're repeatedly criticised for it in the manner of all-female societies in science fiction films, as this film draws heavily on traditions about which it has nothing intelligent to say and which will only confuse its target audience. Yet somehow they break down in the face of parental responsibility and need an Earthling template from which to program their nanny-droids. For the girl children, that is. They boys are cast into a subterranean wasteland because, if they were allowed into civilisation, they would want to have fun all the time and society would collapse. Thus the film manages to insult just about everybody in its first 20 minutes.

Eking out a living among these cast-off males is Gribble, a past human survivor who, bereft of parental influence, still acts like a nine-year-old. One of the film's few interesting creations, he nevertheless lurches between genuinely engaging comedy and what feels like awkward self-parody. There's some fun to be had with the culture clash between his Eighties kid schtick and our hero Milo's acutely 21st century sensibilities, complicated further by a Martian heroine who models herself on Sixties flower children, but it's hit and miss and some of the misses are painful. Rounding out the team, Gribble's mechanical pet proves a bit of a sonic screwdriver, coming to the rescue far too often, but it, at least, has some charm.

Fortunately the action which forms the bulk of the film works fairly well, and during these sequences kids won't care too much about the rest. It's well paced and the various convolutions of Milo's quest to save his mum feel natural enough. Unfortunately basing the action on Mars means the animators have a new set of physical rules to screw up, and this also impacts in plot terms. You can't keep dropping our heroes several hundred metres, assuring us they're fine due to low gravity (Mars isn't that small!) and then expecting us to be frightened when we see them balancing at the edge of precipices. Anyone over six will see straight through this, after which the thrills will start to tail off.

That leaves us back where we began, with the film's politics. All Mars' problems will be solved, it is intimated, if only Martians return to Normal Family Life. Milo's own normal family life seems to involve a largely absent father and a mother who is miserable due to being stuck at home all day, but we are presumably supposed to overlook this. There's a rather insidious attempt to hide behind Sixties counterculture when this feels like a piece of white picket fence propaganda, and at the same time one is left wondering what Mars' young revolutionaries will do once the fridge is empty. Many adults will feel sympathy for the film's villain - I couldn't help but think of the John Wyndham story Dumb Martian, or of Dr Zaius at the end of Planet Of The Apes; and choosing, of all things, a Freddie Mercury song to play over the closing credits just adds insult to injury. This film could have succeeded as a piece of lighthearted fluff but ultimately it's just too creepy, in all the wrong ways. It doesn't succeed as anything else.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2011
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A boy comes to regret wishing that his mum would go away after Martians kidnap her.
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Director: Simon Wells

Writer: Simon Wells, Wendy Wells

Starring: Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois

Year: 2011

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


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