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Originally published Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 12:05 AM

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Movie review

'Mars Needs Moms': You may want a hug after all the falling

A movie review of "Mars Needs Moms," which is a well-meaning, computer-animated tale that lacks wonder and, to a large extent, emotional credibility.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

'Mars Needs Moms,' with the voices of Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling. Directed by Simon Wells, from a screenplay by Simon Wells and Wendy Wells, based on a book by Berkeley Breathed. 88 minutes. Rated PG for sci-fi action and peril. Several theaters.

If you've got a little problem with acrophobia — a fear of heights — think twice about taking in the 3-D, computer-animated "Mars Needs Moms."

While cute and sweet in an oddly forced way, this latest movie employing the performance-capture process used by filmmaker Robert Zemeckis for 2004's "The Polar Express" is a remarkable improvement on that latter, sometimes unintentionally scary-looking feature.

But it is also monotonous to the eye. Set in an emotionally and socially repressed Martian society that exists below the planet's surface, "Mars Needs Moms" is a blur of dull gray and rusty brown. Yes, it has to be that way to drive home its story, but that doesn't make the film interesting to watch.

Mars' underground world is made up of boring, lonely corridors, metal chutes and towering, unadorned structures from which (as overhead shots vertiginously reveal) it is all too easy to drop (and drop and drop) to unfathomable depths. If you're already a little neurotic about falling, you might need some counseling after the end credits.

Based on a children's book by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, and directed by Simon Wells ("The Prince of Egypt"), "Mars" concerns a boy, Milo (Seth Green, his unrecognizable voice manipulated to sound like that of a kid), who stows away on a spaceship sent to kidnap his mother (Joan Cusack).

Mars is their destination, where a tyrant called the Supervisor (Mindy Sterling) aims to download mom's maternal skills into robot nannies. Milo wants to save his mother, of course, though accomplishing that involves a lot of touchy-feely scenes with a lonely, garrulous man-child (Dan Fogler) from Earth and a local rebel (Elisabeth Harnois).

Constant chasing and climbing and (yes) falling amount to numbing action and a shapeless tale, though the final minutes, underscoring the universality of a mother's love, are a high point. What's missing in this movie, especially in an era when we've invested so much hope for extraterrestrial life by sending real probes to the real Mars, is a sense of wonder.

Tom Keogh:

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