Who's In It: Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Tom Everett Scott
The Basics: Unbeknownst to us, there's a scourge in the universe that looks like the costume designer from The Incredibles. She is The Supervisor, and many moons ago she created nanny-bot machines to raise Martian young. In order to get the nanny-bots to function, Martians have to extract discipline from a real mom's brain and inject it into the robots--so Mars is not only in need of moms, but computer programmers as well. Are you a crappy mom? No need to worry--they only want the best. Each time Martian babies are ready to hatch, they kidnap an exemplary mom from Earth, bring her back to Mars, extract her disciplinarian skills and then incinerate her. This time, they've taken Milo's Mom (Joan Cusack), and her son (Seth Green) is just undisciplined enough to stow away on the ship and save her life.
What's the Deal: What Mars really needs is a new screenwriter. This film is entirely cookie-cutter, and lacks anything resembling a joke for the first half. So lemme get this straight: if I have seen Robert Zemeckis make this movie already and it's not funny, why am I here? Well, I have to be--but you don't. You could choose another path for yourself, dear reader. One where you go support animation with a heart, that pumps emotion and joy into your life. You could watch Triplets of Belleville, or Megamind. You could pick up the book this was adapted from by cartoon legend Berkeley Breathed, which I am willing to bet is a solid read. The point is that you don't have to settle for an animated movie that failed to make even the kids in the theater laugh. I implore you, person reading this, make a different animated selection, for the following reasons:
Tonto Would Be Outraged: Dan Fogler is a talented dude (see my Take Me Home Tonight review). He is wasted here playing the voice of sidekick Gribble, a wholly unlikable dolt who has lived in secret on Mars his entire life. Just like Milo, he stowed away on the ship and learned too late what happens to moms when they're stolen. Blah blah blah. It's obvious Gribble has lived alone his entire life because he has no social skills whatsoever, and it should have been charming to watch but wasn't. Gribble has no redeemable qualities until the end when he blushes, which I found marginally adorable, and the weird Martian girl thinks it's cute too. Oh yeah, her. Let's discuss…
Timothy Leary Would Be…Confused: So Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) works directly for The Supervisor but you can tell she hates it. In fact, her disgust is so thinly veiled that it makes me question The Supervisor's ability to be a viable super-villain. It comes as no surprise that Ki is the one putting up graffiti art all over Mars to brighten things up. What does come as a surprise is that she can speak English, and it's all from some generic, lame '60s sitcom she watches ad nauseum in secret. This results in her using phrases such as "turn on, tune in, drop out" and "flower power" when she is talking to people, which made some of the parents chuckle but their kids were still left waiting for their turn. This is a huge problem for me in an animated movie--it needs to work on all levels. Adults and kids need to be laughing for different reasons. When you have a bunch of oldsters in the theater giving a courtesy laugh, you have failed as an animated feature.
And Most Of All: The movie really strains to make the point that moms are amazing because they teach you to take out the trash and tuck you in at night. I was so fed up with this movie halfway through that I found myself rolling my eyes every time Milo utters some forced reasoning for why he's trying to save his mom from annihilation. It didn't help that one of the reasons she's so cool is that she "takes him to Disneyland," and you can guess what studio put this movie out. I was most unsettled when I realized the biggest omission from the film and perhaps the source material too: We are celebrating Milo's Mom, whose character doesn't even have an actual name. Joan Cusack is just credited as…Mom. Which made me wonder: Is that how she is introduced at parent teacher conferences and parties? My mother (who has an actual name, by the way) says you give up your life to raise a child properly, and now I am seeing that embodied in my cartoons. It just made this movie even more hollow.