Let me start off this movie review, (of Mars Needs Moms if you couldn't tell) by saying how much I adore kid's films. Not just Disney--Dreamworks, Pixar, Fox, Studio Ghibli, all sorts. Even when I perform a feminist dissection on them, I still enjoy them immensely. Like the movie Tangled for instance, which my good friend Regan recently reviewed on her blog. Regan and I had a great discussion about it, in which we both brought problematic themes in the movie, things we liked (Regan especially loved Mother Gothel, who I thought was wickedly wonderful as well, albeit suspiciously similar to Frollo from Hunchback of Notre Dame) but we both came to the conclusion that we really enjoyed watching it. This is the case for most of kids' films--I notice and file away issues but in general like it.
But after watching Mars Needs Moms, I was legitimately ANGRY. This movie is extremely insulting to women, families, dads, and especially moms, which is ironic, since the supposed theme is about appreciating your mother.
First off, Mars Needs Moms was the first movie released after Disney made an announcement that they weren't going to create fairy tale movies anymore (i.e Tangled, Princess and the Frog) because they wanted to cater to their 'little boy' audience. This rather infuriated me, because in the movie industry, the only thing females have a large presence in are princess movies. Princess movies may have their faults, but at least they have an unapologetically female protagonist.
So basically, Mars Needs Moms already had my irritation towards it. Still, I was willing to give it a chance. I thought Megamind was going to be a stupid movie, and was very pleasantly surprised at how wrong I was.
So much for being an optimist.
Ok, so the movie starts out with these aliens looking at earth. We see our clear villain, an Evil Alien Queen-like character called The Supervisor. The Supervisor sees a mom she likes and says something to another alien character in a sinister voice.
We cut to Earth. We meet Milo, a bratty little kid that whines and complains about everything. His dad is on a business trip and won't be able to make...I don't remember. I didn't take notes cuz it was too inconsequential. Soccer game? School play? School festival? Something to that effect.
By the way, Milo's mom doesn't get a name. She's just Milo's mom. Macguffins don't get names.
Anyway, Milo and his mom fight and Milo shouts that his life would be a whole lot better without his mom. His mom (played by Joan Cusack) gives him a really hurt look and quietly walks away. I seethe silently because I've been 200 miles away from MY mommy and I can tell you it is NOT FUN AT ALL.
Milo's mom gets abducted by aliens. Milo is determined to save her, so he stows away in the rocket.
I'd like to point out how insulting it is that Disney reinforces gender stereotypes by assuming this caters to boys. Because apparently girls only like princess movies. Girls don't like aliens or robots. Someone needs to have a word with Ursula K. Le Guin and Andre Norton, they must've missed that memo.
Anyway, it's been fifteen minutes and I'm already getting bored. Milo searches desperately for his mom and meets these strange critters, which turn out to be the poor, down-trodden MALE aliens, who are forced to live in a junkyard. Milo tries to explain what moms do--apparently they're glorified servants--and Milo meets Gribble, who I call the Obnoxious Fat Guy. Because that's who he is.
Obnoxious Fat Guy is apparently some kind of hacker. He's been hiding out in the alien junkyard for an undisclosed amount of time and spends his time playing video games and playing voyeur to the aliens.
Obnoxious Fat Guy then explains that Mars needs moms, because their society is an entirely female dominated empire, and because the female aliens are busy working and running the world, they don't have time to raise the baby aliens (which pop out of the ground. LIKE DAISIES! They also separate the girl aliens and the boy aliens, raising the girl aliens to run everything and dropping the boy aliens in the junkyard to fend for themselves.) so they need earthling 'mom-ness' to program their nanny-bots.
Because as we all know, it is entirely impossible for a woman to work AND be a mom. It must be one or the other. There can be no balance. This is what happens when women work, GOD. Never should've given the double X chromosomed bitches the vote.
Okay, so Obnoxious Fat Guy agrees to help Milo rescue his mom, but things go awry pretty quickly. He meets a rebellious female alien named Ki (played by Elisabeth Harnois...who I actually like and am baffled as to why she agreed to do this movie...she was so lovely in Ten Inch Hero!) who has been graffiti-ing flowers on the neat and tidy alien walls. They make friends, yadda yadda yadda.
Obnoxious Fat Guy gets captured and nearly dies by firing squad. Milo interrupts the shooting (damn it) and Ki gets a machine laser gun thing. The Supervisor orders her to shoot Milo and Obnoxious Fat Guy.
Me: Shoot the Supervisor.
Ki looks distraught and torn.
Me: Shoot the Supervisor.
She looks between her world and her two new friends, wondering what she should do.
Me: SHOOT THE SUPERVISOR, YOU STUPID BINT.
She unloads the laser gun and flings it away. Because that laser machine gun wouldn't be USEFUL or anything.
Ki, Milo, and Obnoxious Fat Guy dash off in a mad chase sequence. We learn that Obnoxious Fat Guy came here the same way Milo did, trying to rescue his mom years ago. He failed, and apparently a side affect of the extraction process in collecting 'mom-ness' is exploding, so sucks for his mom.
Ki finds an ancient alien cave painting which clearly shows an alien mommy, an alien daddy, and a little alien baby. Ki is shocked, because The Supervisor has been telling them that nanny-bots have been raising their young forever. It's not supposed to be this way! It's supposed to be a mom and a dad and a dog and 2.5 kids! Heteronormativity for the win.
So Obnoxious Fat Guy or Ki or someone (I was only half-paying attention at this point, playing solitaire on my iPod seemed vastly more interesting) rallies the the poor, oppressed menfolk in an uprising against those cruel heartless harpies.
Milo finds his mom and wakes her up. Milo's mom freaks out and starts screaming. You know, for such a great mom, she's kind of useless. If it was MY mom, she probably would've blinked, looked at me, and been all, "Okay, we're on Mars. Let's get out of here." She would've stolen a laser bazooka, shot anyone who tried to get at me, and then baked butterscotch brownies when we got home.
Okay, so Milo and his mom are running toward the rocket that Ki has somehow commandeered and arranged to fly back to earth. But something happens and Milo's space helmet breaks and we get a really close to touching scene where Milo's mom removes her space helmet to save him and then begins to suffocate herself. This actually makes me sniffle a little, but that's probably because I'm 200 miles away from my mommy and I miss her. This is also the only scene I actually liked.
But it's all okay, because Obnoxious Fat Guy saves Milo's mom with a random deus ex machina space helmet. Yay.
The Supervisor tries to kill them again and Ki stops everyone, showing her fellow aliens the picture of the alien cave painting she took with her iPhone. No, seriously. It looks like an iPhone. I'm not even joking. The fellow aliens are furious at The Supervisor for lying to them and drags her off. Milo and his mom go home and live happily ever after.
Before I start with my issues, let me shelve my feminist-ness for a second and look at it from a kid's point of view. This movie was simply not fun to watch. The characters are flat and boring, it starts off to quickly so we have no time to become emotionally invested in the characters, the visuals are cluttered and drab, the background often detracts from what's happening, and it just isn't enjoyable. Compare it to Wall-E, which had a similar production and setting, but those visuals were a lot more remarkable and colorful. I'll grant that one of the subplots was that Ki was obsessed with color and that the alien world was supposed to be drab. But in Wall-E, with the polluted and colorless earth, it still LOOKED interesting. Not so with this movie.
All right, issues time. First are the obvious issues, that women who work are the devil and anyone not raised in a traditional two-parent household isn't being raised properly. It's like the creator decided to combine all the stereotypes of feminism into one character (the Supervisor) and one world (Mars). Feminists hate children and hate raising children. Feminists hate men. Feminists would prefer a female-dominated world. This is really insulting. I'm not saying a female-dominated alien world isn't an interesting setting, but it's so obviously a caricature of feminism it's derogatory rather than intriguing. Not to mention how it seems to deny the possibility that working women can be mothers too...this really angered me because my mom IS a working woman. The entire reason she DOES work at the job she's at is FOR her kids.
It also makes me angry that the nuclear family structure is what's SUPPOSED to raise children. Single dads are in the wrong, so are single moms. So are grandparents who raise their grandkids. The idea that families could come in all shapes and sizes is simply not present.
Then there's the whole 'mom' issue. Hey, I love moms. I love my mommy. But why is it assumed that moms are the caretakers and dads bring home the bacon? Every family is different, but this movie seemed to be presenting the idea of what each parent is 'supposed' to do. The movie actually uses the term 'mom-ness'. What does that imply? Milo goes from saying it's servitude, to spoiling him, to kissing him good night and loving him. Don't dads do chores? Don't dad take you sledding, shooting, to the movies? Don't dads kiss you good night and love you as well? How is this movie distinguishing 'mom-ness' and 'dad-ness'?
But then, dads don't really get a mention, aside from Ki declaring that alien babies should be raised by parents, not robot nannies. She's kind of vague on the dad's role.
I guess my point is that I really don't like how the movie gives parenting mostly to moms and gives dads a free pass. That's insulting to dads, and quite frankly, not true.
In essence, this is not a movie I'll be buying, or even watching again. Flat characters, irritating dialogue, troubling themes, and cluttered visuals do not a good movie make. Clearly I'm not the only one who thinks so, since this movie completely bombed at the box office. Here's hoping Disney learns a lesson.