The adventure comedy Mars Needs Moms, directed by Simon Wells and starring Seth Green, Joan Cusack and Dan Fogler, will be released by Walt Disney Pictures on March 11.
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Cartoonist Berkeley Breathed Finds Inspiration at Home Famed cartoonist Berkeley Breathed was moved to write the book that inspired the film after an eventful dinner at home. “One night my son Milo threw his broccoli into the air and stormed from the table—a scene depicted with more civility in the movie,” says Breathed. “Upon leaving, he said something about his mother too vile to repeat here—which would only result in expensive therapy later if he ever remembered. From out of nowhere came my next line: ‘You might think differently about your mom if she were kidnapped by Martians.’ I spun on my heels and wrote the book that night. The rest is Disney history.”
ImageMovers Digital and the Disney team embraced the project, tapping Simon Wells to direct and co-write the script with wife Wendy Wells. The writing partners have been married for 23 years, and daughters Meredith and Teagan are featured as Hatchlings in the movie. The film follows in the footsteps of ImageMovers Digital’s roster of well-received family fare, “The Polar Express” and “Monster House,” bringing the story to the big screen in 3D via performance capture. The technique digitally captures the performances of the actors with computerized cameras in a full 360 degrees, allowing filmmakers to transport audiences to Mars—and back—creating elaborate out-of-this-world settings and characters while capitalizing on the expert performances of the cast.
The director says the action and adventure and humor will explode on the big screen—thanks in no small part to the fact that it’ll be presented in 3D and shown on IMAX screens. But Wells says it’s the heart of the film that first attracted them. “This film has an amazing center to it which is the mother’s love for the child and the child’s realization about that love,” says Wells. “And that really spoke to me. It spoke to my wife and writing partner, Wendy. And we built the whole thing around that central moment, which was the whole reason why Berkeley wrote the original book in the first place.”
Producer Jack Rapke says the idea of aliens coming to Earth in search of our mothering expertise is a rich one. “The women who are running Mars are very totalitarian and very OCD—not maternal at all,” says Rapke. “They know that in the solar system, there is a planet called Earth, with a species of humans whose moms seem to be able to control offspring. So they need one every 25 years or so and they send their Martian raiders down to Earth to get one—who, this time, just happens to be Milo’s mom.”
Filmmakers decided to expand the reach of the book when it hit the big screen. “We wanted to age the characters up slightly,” says Wells. “And we realized we were going to spend much longer on Mars. So you travel around an alien world, meet new beings and see the different aspects of that world.”
Filmmakers found that they were tapping the imaginations of millions of people who have wondered for generations if there is life on Mars. In the 1880s telescopes revealed strange markings on Mars, which convinced masses of people that Mars had canals built by an alien race. Today, NASA is constructing a six-wheel-drive rover called MSL (Mars Science Lab) that will be the largest, fastest, most intelligent rover ever deployed to Mars. Two Martian rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, currently roam the Martian surface, and the rover depicted in “Mars Needs Moms” is actually modeled after them.
But our rovers wouldn’t detect the Martians showcased in the film—they’re hidden safely underground and controlled by a strict leader. “Our Martian society is Orwellian in a way,” says producer Steve Starkey. “All the color has been taken out of it, it’s very strict, it’s very rigid. But there’s a few renegades lying below the surface.”
Wells, who’s the great grandson of sci-fi author H.G. Wells, says the film capitalizes on the audience’s natural curiosity about outer space and thirst for action. “You’re shot at and chased and you discover things. You get to experience environments that you would never in your normal lives get to see. You get to travel on a huge heroic journey in pursuit of the noblest cause of all, which is to save your mum because you love her.”