Mars Needs Moms

 Produced by the team behind “Monster House” and “The Polar Express,” “Mars Needs Moms,” Disney’s old-fashioned adventure centers on a young boy whose quest is to save his mom from aliens.

Though Robert Zemeckis did not direct “Mars Needs Mom,” his animated strategy and visual signature is all over the movie.  A firm believer in stop-animation, Zemeckis is Hollywood’s most devout practitioner of a type of film that’s been criticized by many for its lack of vividness, lack of expressiveness and other shortcomings.

The feature’s good-nature and simple premise may prove engaging to very young children (and undiscriminating teenagers) and perhaps to their mothers too, as it deals with the phenom of Momism in a serio-comic, occasionally funny and wild ways.  However, older teenagers may find the narrative too cute, simplistic, and predictable.

Out screens have been recently saturated with 3D animated features.  How much of this fare can the theatrical market absorb will soon become clear.

Set Green voices Milo, a 9-year-old boy who only comes to realize how much he misses his mother (Joan Cusack) in her absence—when she is threatened by Martians who plan to steal her for their own younger generation.

For a while (mostly the first reel), the tale is engaging, humping around from one adventure to another, including stowing away on a spaceship, navigating an elaborate, multilevel planet and taking on the alien nation and their Supervisor (Mindy Sterling).

Milo is not doing it alone.  With the help of a tech-savvy, gadget-happy, 1980s-speaking underground Earthman named Gribble (Dan Fogler) and a rebel Martian girl called Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), Milo is determined to find his way back to his mom—at all costs.

The movie, with its cute title, is meant to be a light, humorous adventure, full of thrills and frills, but under the helm of Simon Wells, it’s more rambunctious than engaging, more aggressive than appealing.

Wells has previously directed “The Time Machine,” a decent picture, and the disappointing flop, “The Prince of Egypt.”

The characters, as conceived by director Simon Wells and his wife Wendy Wells, based on the book by Berkeley Breathed, are simply not interesting or funny enough to watch, though you can’t blame the actors.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed was reportedly motivated to write the book that inspired the film after an eventful (read: disastrous) dinner at home, when his son Milo threw his broccoli into the air and stormed from the table, after saying something vile about his mother. Offended, Breathed reproached his son by saying: You might think differently about your mom if she were kidnapped by Martians.”  In the movie, the above scene is recreated, but it is depicted in a softer, more civil manner.

Dan Fogler as Gribble has some hilarious moments, and it feels as if he ad-libbed much of his text.  But the more serious character, Supervisor, as played by Mindy Sterling, slows things down considerably. The film also stars Kevin Cahoon as Wingnut and Tom Everett Scott as Dad.

The film sports the same visual look as that of Zemeckis’ previous productions. Many of the creative members behind the cameras, such as production designer Doug Chiang and director of photography Robert Presley, have formerly collaborated with Zemeckis on “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf.”