A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this animated 3-D adventure comedy based on the book by Berkeley Breathed is occasionally frightening -- and scenes in which it looks as though the Mom character has died could be quite upsetting for younger viewers -- but it has a very strong message about unconditional love. Because the animation is based on motion-capture technology, some of the tenser scenes (chases, a near execution, close calls with death) seem more realistic and may affect younger kids more than regular computer-generated animation. Expect a few insults ("stupid," "idiot," etc.) and very mild flirting between a female alien and a man who's grown up on Mars. Moms will particularly appreciate the movie's biggest take away: Even when they nag kids to do their chores or send them to bed without a treat, moms love their kids and would do anything to ensure their safety.
What's the story?
Nine-year-old Milo (Seth Green, whose voice is altered to sound younger) has a loving but occasionally disciplinarian mom (Joan Cusack) who sends him to bed without a movie because he feeds his broccoli to the cat. In response to her nagging, Milo spits out, "I wish I didn't have a mom," leaving her in tears. That night, an alien ship abducts her, but not before Milo jumps aboard and flies back to Mars as a stowaway. On Mars, Milo evades detection by jumping down a trash chute that leads to an underground Martian garbage dump, where all the male Martians are kept locked away by the ruling females. Milo meets Gribble (Dan Fogler), a tech-savvy human who explains that every 25 years, the Martians abduct a good Earthling mother in order to program a flock of nanny robots who raise Martian girl babies. If Milo can't save his mom before programming, she'll die -- and he'll be stuck on Mars forever.
Is it any good?
This is a surprisingly tender and sweet adventure. As motion-capture technology advances and produces more and more films, the startlingly realistic animation it produces is no longer as occasionally disturbing as it was when The Polar Express was released. It's easier to just be in awe of it now -- and to see the actors' faces and expressions in every scene. And MARS NEEDS MOMS, like most animated movies, features a noteworthy comedic voice cast, especially Green as Milo, Fogler as Gribble, and Cusack as Mom.
The film's weak link is the '60s-show-obsessed Martian, Ki (Elisabeth Harnois). She believes in groovy love thanks to watching the same 1960s TV program over and over again. It's funny for a little while to hear her say anachronistic catchphrases, but after a while the joke gets a bit flat. Still, this is an enjoyable movie that helps kids understand that, despite the rules, the chores, and the bedtimes, mothers love their kids fiercely, unconditionally, and sacrificially. Mothers -- don't be surprised if you cry and your kids hug you extra tight.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's message. What is it saying about moms and kids? Kids: Do you see your mom at all differently after watching this movie?
Kids: What parts of the movie were scary and/or sad? Did any of it seem scarier or sadder because of the way the animation looks? Why do you think that is?
How does Milo's experience affect him? How does he act differently once he's back home?
- In theaters: March 11, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: August 9, 2011
- Cast: Dan Fogler, Joan Cusack, Seth Green
- Director: Simon Wells
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sci-fi action and peril
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.