Mars Needs Moms is a 2011 3D computer-animated science fiction adventure film based on the Berkeley Breathed book of the same title. It was released on March 11, 2011 by Walt Disney Pictures and co-written and directed by Simon Wells. The film stars Robot Chicken creator Seth Green and is produced by Robert Zemeckis and his studio ImageMovers Digital, being the final movie produced by the studio before its closure in 2011.
It received mixed-to-negative reviews from critics who praised voice acting, visuals, and John Powell's soundtrack, but criticism its writing, premise, character expressions, and drama, Opinions of the motion capture animation were mixed. Some praised it for looking realistic and others criticized it for falling into the uncanny valley and looking creepy. The film grossed $39 million worldwide on a $150 million budget, making it a box-office flop.
The film opens on the surface of a desert-covered planet. A space land rover is on the ground drilling into the planet’s surface. We hear a voice that seems to be a news broadcast talking about how finding on Mars indicates that, at one time, there may have been life. On the surface of Mars, and a big machine is revealed to be working. The machine seems to be a big light or heating lamp pointing toward the ground. The material the lamp is heating starts to crack, and something seems to be trying to burst out from it. You see a head coming out of the ground and then pops out a child. As the newly born Martian child seems to be pleased that they are out and able to look around, we see that others are also being born. The babies are being watched by a young female Martian on a monitor. She looks at the children with great curiosity and happiness. An old female Martian comes up behind her and stands next to her, and they converse in a Martian language that is not translated for us. The young female Martian seems to be very ashamed to be found looking at the children on the monitor as the older female talks to her in an angry tone. The older Martian orders the younger one to do something, and the younger one fiddles with the viewing monitor and brings up an image of earth.
The younger Martian zooms in on the planet earth until you see a young girl with her mother and an ice cream truck on the street. The girl jumps up and down as the mother collects an ice cream cone from the ice cream man. When handed to the girl, she throws the ice cream cone down on the ground and points to the one she wants on the side of the truck. The mother gets the child the ice cream the girl wanted and almost got on her knees to beg for forgiveness. The older Martian doesn’t seem surprised by this action and yells something else at the younger Martian, and the image moves to a mother with two boys. The mother is trying to calm the two boys down, who seem to run around rampant. She is not successful in her tries as they won’t calm down. The Older Martian yells for the younger Martian to go to the next image. We see a young boy on the porch carrying a bag of garbage. He puts it down on the steps and sits down with his arms crossed. His mother comes out from behind him. The younger Martian is going to go to the next image, but the older Martian stops her. She seems very curious. The mother on the porch is scolding her son to put the trash bag into the trash bin. The Martians look on with anticipation to see if the child will do what he is told. He does so, and the screen the Martians are watching goes wild and puts a target on the mother. The older Martian is very happy and praises the younger Martian. Milo takes the trash away. His mother thanks him for doing as he was told and asked him if that was so hard. Milo asks what the big deal of having to do the trash every day is, and the mother asks if he could wonder what a world where no one took out the trash looked like. Milo replies it would be awesome.
The mother asks Milo if he has cleaned his room and reminds him to close the front door. Milo sighs in frustration as his mother returns to vacuuming. The phone starts to ring, and his mother asks him to answer the phone and Milo grunts that he has to do everything. Milo’s dad is on the phone, and Milo is excited because they were supposed to see a movie. The father tells him that he won’t make it back in time for the movie. Milo’s dad is stuck in the airport and can’t get home because of bad weather. Milo’s mom takes the phone and says how disappointed Milo will be that he won’t be able to see the movie, but says if he cleans his room, he can watch a movie on pay-per-view instead. Milo is very excited about this. Milo has just finished eating dinner and has eaten everything on his plate but the broccoli. He starts to walk away when his mother stops him and is upset he didn’t eat his broccoli. Milo tells her it makes him barf and looks like brains. His mother counters that he likes Zombies and zombies like brains. Milo tells her no one likes zombies, and he wants them all annihilated. Milo’s mom tells him that he either eats the broccoli or no TV.
Milo sits back down, and his cat Kujo comes up to the tabling meowing. Milo looks around and starts to scrap the broccoli on the floor so Kujo can eat it. He runs to watch TV but then hears Kujo throwing up behind a plant. Milo’s mom finds Kujo and asks him to explain why Kujo ate the broccoli. Milo makes a smart remark, and she tells him to go to bed. Milo fights with her but loses the battle and is sent to bed. Milo’s mother comes up the stairs with laundry and hears a creaking sound coming from Milo’s room. Milo is jumping up and down on the bed.
Milo makes another smart remark, and his mother says that her life would be so much better if she didn’t have to be a nagging mother. Milo says his life would be better if he didn’t have a mom at all. Milo’s mother is hurt and sad by his statement and leaves his room. Milo doesn’t go to bed and reads a magazine instead and looks upset since he hurt his mother with his words. Milo feels bad for what he said to his mother and talks to Kujo about it, saying he should apologize to his mother. He decides to apologize to his mother right away and goes to put on his shoes. As Milo is about to enter his mother’s room, he sees a bright light from underneath the doorway. The light disappears, and he enters the room. He sees the light going outside and looks up in the sky to see his mother being taken away by a spaceship. Milo chases after the spaceship and finally is able to get to the bigger ship that is transporting his mother. He sees his mother being taken and starts to bang on the ship, demanding they let her go. As it takes off, his shirt is caught on part of the ship. He is put into the ship when the legs helping the ship stand up retract. Milo realizes he’s on a spaceship and is very excited.
The ship is in the sky, and it glows a bright blue color. A wormhole opens in front of the ship, and the ship goes through, traveling a far distance in an instant. The ship arrives back on Mars. The older Martian is happy to find that the mother is in their possession. The younger Martian seems confused and feels bad about what they are doing. The older Martian yells at her, and the younger one rolls her eyes and follows. They are then alerted by two more Martians that they have found Milo. He is put into a clear pod-like his mother but is asleep. Milo wakes up and is trapped inside a circular prison. There is a whole row of these prisons. He yells out, and the room goes dark, and then a door opens. He walks out into the hallway, but the gravity makes him unable to walk. The hallway starts to go dark. Milo jumps thanks to gravity and is told by a voice to jump down Chute 3. Two Martians show up and charge a weapon, and he jumps into the chute at the last second, and the Martians miss him. He starts to fall and makes a hard landing but is unhurt. He is dumped into an area that is completely littered with trash. Milo thinks it’s awesome, as he said before. Milo falls down a hill of trash and comes upon a group of Male Martians, later called The Hairy Men Tribe, but mistakes them for zombies. He threatens them with Karate, which he doesn’t know, and they mimic his moves. He tells them he just wants his mom, and they start to say the word Mom again and again. Milo explains what a Mom is to him, and they mimic him when he tries to explain through charades. He’s getting frustrated that they don’t know what he is talking about. He then explains that his mother tucks him in at night, and they mistake it for him wanting a hug. Just then, a bright light comes out of the sky. The light comes toward Milo and grabs him, and flies him away with a balloon. Attached to the balloon is a robot named Two-Cat! Milo is dropped on a board and then falls off but lands on a wooden suspension bridge. He navigates himself forward and ends up staring at the back of the guy who told him to go down the chute. The guy is playing a flight simulator game and is surrounded by a bunch of viewing monitors. The man introduces himself as Gribble.
Gribble acts very much like a child, and Milo is excited to see that Gribble is a human. Gribble asks him not to talk about him being human because he claims he is a part of a group ordered by President Reagan called The Secretnauts. He claims their mission was to stop the spread of communism throughout the galaxy. Milo is still having trouble with Gravity, so Gribble takes him to his room down a pole and gives him a weight belt. On the way back up the pole, Milo almost falls into a fiery pit but is able to catch his balance. Gribble shows Milo on the video screens the Martians trying to figure out how he escaped. Through his computer, Gribble is able to cause some of the Martians that are near the chute to fall down and laughs. Gribble then gives Milo a translator and places it on Milo’s hand, and Milo can understand the Martians. Gribble shows Milo a room and tells him that he will live with him forever. Gribble had another friend named Wingnut but no longer needs him because Milo is there now. Milo sees his mother on the screen and hears the Martians speaking about terminating something. Milo fights with Gribble about telling him what they are talking about. Gribble breaks down and tells Milo that Mars needs moms.
Gribble explains that every 25 years, hatchlings come out of the ground like potatoes. The Martians are apparently terrible at mothering which Gribble thinks is ironic because the Martians who run mars are all female. The female hatchlings are assigned a nanny robot of their own, but the nanny robot is scrapped after the child has grown. When a new generation is born, they find a mother on earth that is good at discipline since that is what they care about. They hook the mother up to a machine that is powered by the sun. That information they extract is then put into the nanny buts. However, when the sun rises...there is a huge flash on the screen where Milo’s mom would be at that time. Gribble seems to be very vague about what happens next. It looks as if the mothers would die from this process.
Milo begs Gribble to help him rescue his mom. Gribble advises him that he has less than 7 hours to save his mother. Gribble then convinces himself that it’s a great idea to save Milo’s mother with all his spy equipment. Milo is heading toward the surface and talking to Gribble through a headset. He is trying to reassure a very scared Milo that he’ll be fine and is confident that even the super-secret security agents in black uniforms on Mars, the Cist, won’t figure out he’s human. Gribble’s actual plan is to have Milo found out and save him so he will be grateful and be his best friend. This way, Milo will just want to stay where Gribble lives.
Gribble assists Milo through a video camera over Milo’s eye. Milo is surprised by the number of Martian Female soldiers who are running in 9 soldier squadrons. Milo sees the older female Martian and finds out she is THE SUPERVISOR. Milo sees a tiny group of Martians looking at brightly colored graffiti on the wall. Gribble tells him they are tags, and The Supervisor hates them. Milo advises that in front of him is the Citadel, and his mother would be on the top floor. Gribble prepares to go save Milo. Two-Cat seems disappointed in Gribble, and Gribble explains his plan to him. Milo has to go through a security checkpoint, and when he is scanned, the alarm goes off. Guards put guns on him, and Gribble ends up pushing the wrong button to rescue Milo, and he is captured. Gribble ends up helping Milo and gives him time to run. The Martians begin got chase him, and Gribble ends up giving him wrong directions again. An alarm goes off, and Martians find Gribble and take him away. Milo discovers he is on his own and that he has nowhere to run. Milo climbs down on a very thin ledge that is high up from the floor. As Milo avoids the guards, we see a Martian climbing on top of the wall, and they spread the Graffiti Tags that The Supervisor hates. Milo falls and is rescued by the tagger.
Later we would find out that this Martian is Ki. Ki tells Milo that the guards tracked down Gribble. Milo starts to run to make sure he can save Gribble and Ki follows him in the elevator. Ki is a Martian who loves what we would refer to as hippies. She was working one night and saw a transmission of a 70s TV show in color and was amazed by it. It’s also how she learned English. Mars is apparently devoid of color, and individuality is forbidden. Milo explains that he has to save his mom and explains to Ki that a mother is someone who takes care of you and loves you...and then he finds Chute 3 and jumps down it again.
Milo is calling out to Gribble and see that the Martian Guards have destroyed Gribble’s home. By this time, Milo only has 5 1/2 hours to save his mom and Gribble. Milo finds a canister that Gribble has marked KEEP OUT MARTIANS. Milo finds a pair of kids shoes and a shirt with Gribble’s full name, George Gribble, on it and a picture of Gribble and his mother when he was very young. Milo then hears Two-Cat screaming out to him, and Milo frees him from being trapped under some rubble. Two Cat shows Milo that Gribble is being taken to a firing squad. Gribble is standing in front of the firing squad, and he is begging for his life.
The Supervisor is there and is giving orders to the firing squad. Ki joins the audience who is watching this. Just in the nick of time, Milo swings in and saves Gribble, and knocks down the guards who fall on top of The Supervisor. A gun is flung in the air and lands in Ki’s hands. The Supervisor gets up and calls for more guards and notices Ki with a gun. She orders Ki to shoot Gribble and Milo. Ki, however, doesn’t follow this order, and before The Supervisor can do anything, she is grabbed by Two Cat and flown away. Gribble and Milo escape through a hole in the floor created by the tiny gun that Ki threw to Milo and land back in the under trash world. They fall in front of a group of Martian’s men and are scared until Wingnut excitedly greets them. The men are attacked by guards, and they all run. Milo and Gribble get separated and end up falling into a body of water. When they come up to the surface, there are surrounded by flying jellyfish and a colorful cave. Milo notes that he only has 3 1/2 hours till sunrise.
Milo frees Gribble from his chains with the tiny gun. Gribble seems to just want to give up and live in the cave. Milo wants to save his mother and is upset that Gribble wants to give up. Milo reveals he knows about Gribble being George. Gribble talks about his past and how he couldn’t find his mother, and when he last saw her, it was at Sunrise. He tried to get her. It was revealed that the machine that his mother was in and Milo’s mom would incinerate them after it extracted their memories for the nanny bots. George is then convinced by his story that he should help Milo get his mother before the same thing happens to him. Ki has followed them down to the cave and scares Gribble. Gribble finds out that Ki is the one who paints the graffiti on the walls and congratulates her. Gribble and Ki are obviously attracted to each other. As they are running up the stairs, some of the cave walls fall apart, and an image of a child, a mother, and a father is on the wall. Milo explains what a nuclear family is. Ki is confused as The Supervisor has told them that they have always been raised by machines. She takes a picture of the image, and they continue. The Martians are now out in full force, looking for Milo and Gribble. Ki tells them if they are caught, they will be put in prison. Milo determines that’s exactly where they want to go. The silo where the ship is back to earth is next to the jail. And that’s the way to the surface so they can save Milo’s mom.
The three of them spy on the guards they need to go past, and Ki pretends that she has captured Gribble and Milo. As Milo and Gribble distract the two guards with pleas of why they should not be in prison, Ki gets some tranquilizers and knocks out the two guards. Gribble then makes sure to turn off all the security cameras. On their way down the hallway, Gribble finds Wingnut in a prison pod and lets him out. Milo has to explain to Ki what hugging is and then notices all the cells have been opened, and all the prisoners are out. On a viewing screen, they see that the female hatchlings are being given their nanny bots, and the male hatchlings are sent below to be raised by the Hairy Tribe guys. Now that all the Hairy Tribe guys are up in the center, there would be no one to help raise the boys. Gribble instructs the Hairy Tribe guys to go down chute 3. They are not catching on, but finally, Wingnut seems to understand what Gribble is saying. They find the shuttle to home surrounded by Martians. Gribble uses his computer skills to open the hatch of the shuttle bay to make them run away, or they will be sucked out onto the surface. All the Martians run out, and Gribble gives Milo a breathing helmet, and he climbs the ladder to the surface.
Milo gets to the surface, and the sun is starting to rise. He starts to jump across the surface toward his mother’s location. Gribble is starting to figure out how to launch the ship and needs to enter a word to start the voice activation when it’s ready. He chooses his name GRIBBLE, and because of that, he and Ki start to flirt. Milo notices the sun is rising, and he is terrified he won’t get to his mother in time. Milo makes a mistake and falls down into a pit. He finds something but has lost contact with Gribble. Milo uses gravity to jump up to ledges to get out of the pit. The ledges start to give way, and Milo almost falls but is caught by Gribble, who is wearing a jet pack. The Supervisor notices Gribble and Milo flying through the air and orders the guards to chase them. Two Cat warns Ki, who warns Gribble and Milo. All of the sun-powered orbs are lit up except the one where Milo’s mother is in. Gribble drops off Milo and goes to face all the guards himself. As Milo enters the orb where his mother is, it’s starting to power up the memory extraction device. Milo tries to wake his mother up, who has no idea what is happening around her. Milo starts to find a way to unlock her. Gribble flies towards the Martian mission control, and before the guards can escape, he punches the control panel that electrocutes him. Ki, watching this, yells out his name and accidentally starts the launch sequence.
Milo is working desperately at opening the locks that are holding his mother down. He finally realizes he still has the small gun and shoots the locks off his mother. He tries to pull her off the table with the little strength he has and right before the memory extraction beam fires, he gets her off the table. The beam misfires and it goes towards mission control and destroys all the nanny bots. The supervisor is very angry and starts to yell then hears a noise coming from the chutes. Out of the chutes jump the Hairy Men Tribe! They attack all the guards and free the female hatchlings who start to taunt the guards and use their weapons against them. On a viewing screen a big portion of the adult female Martian population is watching all this happen. Ki advises Milo that he only has two minutes to get to the space shuttle to get home. Milo tries to wake up his mother up who finally realizes she is on Mars. She starts to freak out and Milo calms her down so they can get to the ship. He only has 60 seconds to get there. Milo’s mom is still freaking out but Milo helps her use the gravity to bounce to the ship. Milo’s mom finally notices the Martians and Milo explains who is good and who is bad. Just then, The Supervisor with a breathing mask on, shoots open the glass and comes after them with a gun. She steps on an unconscious Gribble who wakes up. She takes aim at Milo and Gribble knocks her down and she misses. However, Milo jumps and lands hard only to smash his breathing helmet.
Ki starts to yell, but we can’t hear her, and the ship starts to take off. Milo’s mother runs towards Milo, who is unable to breathe. Milo’s mom takes off the rest of his breathing helmet and puts hers on him. Milo realizes what his mother did and starts to get sad as his mother starts to pass out from not breathing. The Martians all watch this and are moved by this exchange. Gribble gets up and sees that Wingnut is holding another breathing helmet. He runs to Milo and his mother and gets the helmet on Milo’s mother. Milo’s mother wakes up, and Milo finally gets to apologize for what he said earlier in the movie. Ki flies with the ship in their control and tells Gribble, Milo, and Milo’s mom to get on. They start to run, but then The Supervisor pops out of the ground and tells them to stop. Ki jumps out and kicks the gun out of The Supervisor’s hand, who tells her that this is how it has always been. The other guards pull guns on Ki, who then shows them the image on the cave wall. Ki explains they were not meant to be raised by machines but to be raised by families with love.
The Supervisor tries to state that there needs to be order and the other guards look at the Hairy Men Tribe holding the Female Hatchlings. The adult female Martians grab The Supervisor and take her away, calling her Evil One. The Hairy Men Tribe are excited, and so are the adult female Martians inside watching on the video screen. A wormhole opens, and we see the ship come out on the other side and land on earth. Milo asks Gribble if he is going to stay on earth. Gribble says that he is going to go back to Mars and hang out with Ki. Milo asks if they will see each other again, and Gribble tells him he will. Milo’s mother thanks Gribble and tells him that his mother would be proud of him. Gribble cries and says it’s because of allergies. Milo and his mother walk towards home, and the sun on earth rises. The shuttle takes off, and as they get home, they breathe a sigh of relief. Milo’s dad then arrives home, and he hugs his wife. Milo then notices there is trash on the floor and grabs it, and takes it outside right away. There is a bright flash under the door that only his mother sees, and it’s Milo using the tiny gun to blow up the trash. Milo looks at the screen and smiles. During the credits, it shows that Mars has changed. The uniforms for the guards are no longer just black...but colorful. There is a painting of the cave image on the wall of one of the towers, and on a screen, there is the 70s sitcom show that Ki loves playing.
- Seth Green as Milo (motion-capture)
- Seth Dusky as Milo (voice only)
- Joan Cusack as Milo's mom
- Tom Everett Scott as Milo's dad
- Elisabeth Harnois as Ki
- Dan Fogler as Gribble
- Mindy Sterling as The Supervisor
- Kevin Cahoon as Wingnut
- Jacque Barnbrook, Matthew Henerson, Adam Jennings, Stephen Kearney, Amber Gainey Meade, Aaron Rapke, Julene Renee, Kirsten Severson, and Matt Wolf as Martians
- Ryan Ochoa, Robert Ochoa, Raymond Ochoa, and Gavin Bryson Thompson as Martian Hatchlings
- Liam and Edgar Wells as Robot Martians
- Dee Bradley Baker as Two-Cat
- Marianne Bennett
- Jo McGinley
- Daniel James O'Connor
- Edi Patterson
- Erik Schaper
- April Warren
Simon Wells first meet Robert Zemeckis in the mid-1980s when he was supervising animator and storyboard artist for the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He also worked on Back to the Future Part II and III and later worked on The Polar Express, which was why he was attracted to making Mars Needs Moms. The production designer was Doug Chiang, and the supervising art director was Norm Newberry. The title of the film is a twist on the title of American International Pictures' 1966 film Mars Needs Women. After spending six weeks outfitted in a special sensor-equipped motion-capture suit while simultaneously performing Milo's lines, Seth Green's voice sounded too old and mature for the character and was dubbed over by that of then 11-year-old actor Seth Dusky.
Mars Needs Moms received mixed-to-negative reviews from critics who praised voice acting, visuals, and John Powell’s soundtrack, but criticism its writing, premise, character expressions, and drama, Opinions of the motion capture animation were mixed. Some praised it for looking realistic and others criticized it for falling into the uncanny valley and looking creepy, and an approval rating of 37% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 115 reviews, stating "The cast is solid and it's visually well-crafted, but Mars Needs Moms suffers from a lack of imagination and heart."
The trailer of the film premiered in front of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and then was attached to Tangled. The film was a bomb on its opening weekend with just $6,914,488 on its first week while playing at 3,117 locations. This was the 12th worst opening ever for a film playing in 3000+ theaters, but dropped only 23% due to spring break in week 2. In week 3, it plunged by 58% to $2,258,428. As of December 7, 2011, the movie has grossed just $21,392,758 on a $150 million budget, and at the moment is technically the fifth-biggest box-office bomb in film history, with a net loss of $111,007,242, when counting the foreign gross of $17.6 million.