3rd rock from the son

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One thing we should all be able to agree on: Everyone needs a mom. And, judging by Disney's new 3-D animated feature Mars Needs Moms , mothers are also needed in outer space.

Mars Needs Moms is produced by the same team behind the earlier motion-capture hits A Christmas Carol and The Polar Express . This means the new film also renders characters that look almost lifelike, and they move more naturally than traditional animated creatures. But here, it also means a lack of visual excellence, as Mars Needs Moms takes place mostly on a planet overcast with grays and muted tones.

Simon Wells (great-grandson of H.G.) directs from the script he co-wrote with Wendy Wells based on the illustrated book by irreverent yet revered cartoonist Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County). The final product features the artist's absurd outer space creatures that would fit into a science-fiction film more easily than into Disney's traditionally cuddly repertoire.

But Mars Needs Moms mostly stays in safe territory, with its tale of 9-year-old Milo (voiced by Seth Green), who tells his mother (voiced by Joan Cusack) that he would be better off without her. Suddenly, Martians land and scoop her up, while frantic Milo chases after her and finds himself accidentally along for the ride.

Once on Mars, Milo faces the bigger task of finding his mom and somehow returning to Earth. Milo learns that every 25 years, young Martians hatch, and only Earth-mothers can raise them. So Martians must abduct moms.

Fortunately for Milo, he falls under the wing of John Candy-lookalike Gribble (Dan Fogler), who claims to be left behind from Ronald Reagan's interstellar anti-communist program ("Why do you think they call it the 'red' planet?" he asks). They team together with sympathetic Martian Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) to fight the multitude of spectacularly created warriors, natives and robots.

Mars Needs Moms never overdoes the cultural references or tries too hard to impress with its smarmy cleverness. And, although the theme becomes redundant and repeats itself throughout the film, all earthly audiences already know it by heart: Moms are great. MOVIE RATING

Mars Needs Moms


Rated PG, 88 minutes.

Opens Friday.

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