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Mars Needs Moms

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Links to our threads on the motion-capture films The Polar Express (2004), Beowulf (2007), A Christmas Carol (2009) and Yellow Submarine (2012), which Robert Zemeckis directed, and Monster House (2006), which, like Mars Needs Moms, he merely produced.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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I saw this trailer in front of Harry Potter and it is seriously painful to watch.

Edited by rjkolb

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Yeah, they showed the trailer before the screening I went to for Tangled (I hate going to public previews, but that's what fit my schedule). My only thought is a question of if seeing Mars Needs Women might create a context. I doubt it though.

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Link to our thread on Amy Chua's 'Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior' and the fallout thereof.

I would link to our threads on The Prince of Egypt (1998) and The Time Machine (2002), too, but we don't seem to have any. Anyway, there are elements in this film that reflect elements of those other films, both of which were co-directed by Simon Wells, who receives sole directorial credit on this one. (Side note: Wells is the great-grandson of Time Machine author H.G. Wells. But there's no War of the Worlds reference here, as far as I can tell, beyond the fact that this film takes place on Mars.)

Anyway. This film could provoke some verrrrry interesting discussion re: the current state of gender roles and parenting roles, etc. Or, at any rate, it could provoke some very interesting discussion re: the film's handling of these themes.

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So ... did no one else see this film? I know it's turning out to be something of a flop -- a rarity where Disney-distributed animation is concerned -- but still, I thought this film might provoke some interesting discussion about gender roles and family roles, etc.

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How badly this movie perform at the box office, compared to other cartoons? Lou Lumenick puts it this way:

How badly did Disney's "Mars Needs Moms'' bomb this weekend? Well, the embarrasing $6.8 million estimate is around 300K less than 2008's "Space Chimps,'' which did not have the benefit of bloated 3D and IMAX ticket surcharges, an ultra-wide release, the Disney brand name and a reported $60 million marketing budget.

That's on top of Disney admitting a production budget for "Mars Needs Moms'' of $150 million -- I'd guess it cost at least a third more -- vs. $38 million for "Space Chimps,'' a Fox release that reached a final tally of $30 million domestic and $34 million foreign. Variety, who is attributing the opening to "a persisting malaise among moviegoers'' rather than a terrible movie, is reporting openings in 14 foreign markets covering about 25 percent of the world brought in a pitiful $2.1 million.

You don't need to be a math expert to expect a major tax write-off for this disaster, which played a couple of extra times a day because of its abbreviated 82-minute runtime -- it's 26 minutes shorter than "Rango,' which held well (despite a C+ CinemaScore) for $23.1M for its second weekend without 3D or IMAX surcharges. . . .

Lumenick also notes that this film's failure may be yet another nail in the coffin of motion-capture animated films (as opposed to motion-capture in live-action films, which has worked wonderfully in fantasies like Avatar and The Lord of the Rings), and he adds: "There will be a major test of this controversial technique at the end of this year, when Steven Spielberg's 'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn' is released. If I were Paramount (the North American distributor) or Columbia (overseas) I'd be more than a little nervous even with Spielberg and Peter Jackson involved."

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How badly did this film bomb? So badly that the Hollywood Reporter tried to put things in perspective by running a story with the headline "Japan Disaster Will Have Greater Financial Impact on Disney Than 'Mars Needs Moms'".

Meanwhile, other outlets have offered their post-mortems:

  • Variety: "So chalk up "Mars" as the latest big-budget project that, without broad appeal, brand recognition or an audience beyond young boys, execs will use as an example of the type of film Hollywood can't afford to make.

  • Hollywood Reporter (which also has a slideshow that links Mars Needs Moms to some of the "Biggest Box Office Bombs"!): "Many times, a movie performing poorly in the U.S. can make up ground at the international box office. Mars, however, did just as badly in its overseas debut, grossing a paltry $2.1 million from 14 countries (about 25% of all territories).

    "Domestically, it wouldn't be a surprise if Mars topped out at $25 million. Summit Entertainment's Astro Boy, opening to $6.7 million in 2009, cumed $19.6 million, while Fox's Aliens in the Attic opened to $8 million, also in 2009, and cumed $25.2 million. (For a Disney toon to perform as badly as a Summit title is a tough pill to swallow.)"

  • New York Times: "In the movie business, sometimes a flop is just a flop. Then there are misses so disastrous that they send signals to broad swaths of Hollywood. “Mars Needs Moms” is shaping up as the second type. . . .

    "“Mars Needs Moms” also signals broader movie business problems. Computer animation has been Hollywood’s most reliable moneymaker over the last decade — so much so that nearly every studio, including Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures, has ramped up production of such films. As the first big-budget computer animated movie to flop, “Mars Needs Moms” tells some film executives that the market is becoming saturated.

    "“Mars Needs Moms,” about a 9-year-old boy whose mother is abducted by Martians, followed quickly on the heels of “Gnomeo & Juliet” and “Rango.” “Hop” will arrive on April 1; “Rio” arrives two weeks later. Close behind are “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Cars 2.” . . .

    "Movie executives also suggest that “Mars Needs Moms” can be seen as a consumer referendum on 3-D ticket pricing for children. While child tickets to traditional screenings run about $8.75 in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, child admission for 3-D screenings is $13. Imax charges $15.50 for children. Box-office analysts have been increasingly concerned that consumers in general and parents in particular are starting to rebel."

  • David Poland, who has a few bones to pick with that last article, as he often does whenever the New York Times covers the film industry: "Is Mars Needs Moms a game changer? Only for Bob Zemeckis, who can go home, count his nine-figure fortune again, and decide what he feels like spending another studio’s money on next. I actually do feel bad for him. He is one of the great underrated directors in history. And he’s invested years trying to make this technology sing. Audiences are okay with it… but not $700 million worldwide okay with it… and that is the kind of gross these films need. Unless he wants to fund himself, he’s going to have to move on now."

  • What Would Toto Watch?: "While “Battle: Los Angeles’” shaky cam dominated the box office over the weekend, Disney’s computer-animated “Mars Needs Moms” made cinema’s hall of shame for having the tenth worst opening box office for a wide-release movie since 1982."

Meanwhile, the Georgia Straight has an interview with director Simon Wells, which suggests that this film may differ from a lot of kids' fare in that it does not take parents for granted or portray them as idiots.

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So ... did no one else see this film? I know it's turning out to be something of a flop -- a rarity where Disney-distributed animation is concerned -- but still, I thought this film might provoke some interesting discussion about gender roles and family roles, etc.

Hard to discuss intellectual topics re: gender roles, family issues, etc. when you're confronted with something that looks like this -

Mars-needs-moms.jpg

Lumenick also notes that this film's failure may be yet another nail in the coffin of motion-capture animated films (as opposed to motion-capture in live-action films, which has worked wonderfully in fantasies like Avatar and The Lord of the Rings), and he adds: "There will be a major test of this controversial technique at the end of this year, when Steven Spielberg's 'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn' is released. If I were Paramount (the North American distributor) or Columbia (overseas) I'd be more than a little nervous even with Spielberg and Peter Jackson involved."

Everyone's starting to pick up on it now that Disney's dumping Zemeckis' Yellow Submarine.

Ah yes, the resulting commentary on the latest piece of motion-capture ugliness is always fun -

John Beifuss - Instead of wondering about the fates of the hero and his mother, I kept wondering why Zemeckis and director Simon Wells (2002's traditionally animated "The Prince of Egypt") had decided to use "motion capture" characters instead of inserting live-action actors into computer- generated environments to interact with CG co-stars, as George Lucas did with his later "Star Wars" sequels.

Jim Sloteck - With each motion-capture film, we are inundated with tech specs, as if the movie were a new line of hybrid car, the product of elite FX geeks working overtime to put life in those dead eyes and waxy skin. Yep, they say this is the one that will finally fool your brain (and your kids' brains) into thinking you're watching real people. Well, here's a thought: Why not put an nth of those resources into a script?

Mars-Needs-Moms-Trailer.jpg

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Excellent interview with Berkeley Breathed, author of the original story, here. I had no idea this film was based on a Breathed book! If I had, I'd have been at least a little more interested. They should have used that in the marketing of the film -- I can't be the only Bloom County fan still around.

That said, from the sound of things, he seems to be pretty much the only person pleased with the final result . . .

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Excellent interview with Berkeley Breathed, author of the original story, here. I had no idea this film was based on a Breathed book! If I had, I'd have been at least a little more interested. They should have used that in the marketing of the film -- I can't be the only Bloom County fan still around.

That said, from the sound of things, he seems to be pretty much the only person pleased with the final result . . .

I didn't know that either until the film opened, and when I looked up some of the artwork Breathed created for the book, I wondered why the producers decided to change it so radically.

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Excellent interview with Berkeley Breathed, author of the original story, here. I had no idea this film was based on a Breathed book! If I had, I'd have been at least a little more interested. They should have used that in the marketing of the film -- I can't be the only Bloom County fan still around.

That said, from the sound of things, he seems to be pretty much the only person pleased with the final result . . .

I didn't know that either until the film opened, and when I looked up some of the artwork Breathed created for the book, I wondered why the producers decided to change it so radically.

Seriously. He's such a good artist!

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Baal_T'shuvah wrote:

: I didn't know that either until the film opened, and when I looked up some of the artwork Breathed created for the book, I wondered why the producers decided to change it so radically.

Yeah, there's a whimsy to the book that's lacking -- though not entirely absent -- in the film. E.g., the Martians are LOUSY kidnappers in the book: they come with a net, and the first time they try to kidnap a mom (on a sidewalk), they are chased off by a relatively old guy with a cane. And then, when they bring the mom to Mars, it turns out that they need her to do, well, mom-like things: taking them to soccer games, etc. So the book goes out of its way to work on a sort of bedtime-fable level -- there's no serious threat here, etc., etc.

The film, on the other hand, puts the mom and her son in all sorts of life-threatening situations, and imagines a scenario in which the Martians have been routinely -- and efficiently -- kidnapping mothers and stealing their memories (effectively killing them) for decades. And needless to say, the film's version of these interplanetary travelers don't use anything as crude or primitive as a net, nor do they seem to have any interest in soccer games, etc.

FWIW, The Hollywood Reporter apparently has an interview with Breathed about the movie and its dismal box-office performance, but they appear to be publishing that interview in the print edition only.

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Saw this tonight on Netflix streaming. While it wasn't as bad as I feared, it also wasn't anywhere near as good as it should of been. I have a hard time understanding why those who use motion capture haven't yet figured out that it doesn't always have to mean that characters can't be "cartoony". Berkley Breathed's artwork is so much more playful, with the Martian element much more of a throwback to the 1930's, 40's and 50's Flash Gordon/George Pal inspired works of science fiction.

In fact, the realism here really hurt many aspects of my enjoyment of the story. I've found that in watching these mo-cap films, the greater the degree of realism that the filmmakers are placing on their character's appearance, corresponds directly to a greater degree of adherence to physical laws I end up placing on these characters. Moments of outrageous physical feats that I accept in films like Up, took me out of Mars Needs Moms, starting with Milo's trip through the garbage chute that turns into a free fall of Gandalf/Balrog proportions. It looks painful when he lands and then slides down the enormous mountains of scrap metal. Yet, Milo walks away without a scratch (not once, but twice), kind of like Jake and Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers who walk away from collapsing buildings with just a shrug of the shoulders to remove the dust and bricks. Later, though, after these two gigantic plunges, we're expected to worry about Milo's safety as he hangs precariously off the edge of a cliff. I didn't buy into it. What's one more fall on Mars going to do to this kid, if the previous two didn't hurt him?

Granted that mo-cap is still something in its infancy, but Breathed himself kind of pointed out the pitfalls that filmmakers (including those that made Mars Needs Moms) are falling into with its use... "It’s proving to be a hugely powerful tool in the animator’s bag of tricks. I suspect that its uses will evolve as filmmakers resist its Sirens’ call of hyper-realism." Let's hope so.

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