Mars Needs Moms is a computer-animated film that was directed by Simon Wells and released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2011. The story of the animated movie revolves around the peculiar events that happened to Milo, a nine-year-old boy whose mother was abducted by Martians. Finally being able to muster enough courage and know the importance of family, Milo aimed to beat the impossible odds of rescuing her mother from the clutches of highly-advanced aliens. While the movie seems to have an interesting premise for some, most of the people in 2011 found its story to be generic, as well as its animation style jarring, and the poor reception among audience and critics led it to become one of Disney’s biggest movie flops. To know what went wrong with this animated movie, here is the production history and reception of Mars Needs Moms.
Before the conceptualization of Mars Needs Moms, director Simon Wells, who is notable for being the great-grandson of sci-fi writer H.G. Wells, already met producer Robert Zemeckis during the production of another animated film titled Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, wherein Zemeckis was the director and Wells was the animation supervisor. Because Zemeckis also worked on sci-fi/fantasy movies like Back to the Future Parts II and III, as well as The Polar Express, he expressed interests when Wells pitched him the story of Mars Needs Moms. The original story of Mars Needs Moms came from the book of the same title written by Berkeley “Berke” Breathed,” although Simon Wells and his writer and co-screenplay writer Wendy Wells made changes in several parts of the story.
In order to make the Martians more “alien-like,” Wells and the production team created an alien language for the creatures. To create the language, all of the cast members read a list of words, but instead of saying the words normally, they need to come up with a new way to pronounce each syllable. After their interpretations of different words were recorded, the production team chose several recordings that would serve as the official words for the alien language. To make it easier for the actors playing as the aliens to memorize the language, the team printed all the words in a book that acts like the dictionary for the alien language.
While the movie was computer-animated, most of the actions performed on the film were done using motion-capture. According to the motion-capture actor for the protagonist, Seth Green, the motion-capture for the film was physically demanding, as they had to perform countless jumps, hits, spins, and the harness that they wear for the most of the shooting was deemed uncomfortable. Despite being selected to play as Milo, the production team thought that Seth Green’s voice was to mature for a nine-year-old boy, so they hired a 12-year-old actor named Seth R. Dusky to provide the voice for the protagonist.
On the first day of the animated film’s release on March 11, 2011, it earned only $1,725,000, making it the 22nd-worst opening for a film in history. Overall, it was only able to get $39.2 million in the box office, and because the budget for it was estimated to be $150 million, Mars Needs Moms is considered one of the biggest box office failures or flops for Disney. The failure of the movie to break-even for its budget is attributed to the audience’s reception to the movie’s story, which is considered to be generic and repetitive, as well as its animation that was said to cross the “uncanny valley” because of the characters’ peculiar movements and facial expression.
The movie was also released during the boom of social media, and because moviegoers can easily voice and share their opinion on the internet, those who haven’t watched the movie yet became discouraged in watching it for the fact that there are many posts on Facebook and tweets on Twitter saying that the movie is mediocre. Another critique that came up of social media was Zemeckis’ tendency to focus on the technological marvel of his films rather than their story.
Film critics also agreed on the critique given by the audience on social media, as Mars Needs Moms was given an approval rating of only 37% based on 115 reviews found on Rotten Tomatoes. Most of the critics stated that while the cast members did phenomenally in their roles, the film just lacked a good story, mainly due to the fact that the production team may have focused too much on animating the scenes rather than polishing the film’s plot. Nevertheless, the critics praised the animation for Mars Needs Moms, as they saw that it was an improvement over Zemeckis’ previous animated effort, The Polar Express, although most of them agreed that The Polar Express had a better story.
After the release of Mars Needs Moms, Simon Wells took a hiatus from directing films and focused on being a story artist for several animated films, including, The Croods in 2013, Kung Fu Panda 3 in 2016, and The Lego Ninjago Movie in 2017.