Good intentions, but Disney dips

An Active3D Movie Review: MARS NEEDS MOMS 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars): **

Smart tagline; you gotta hand it to them.

The premise is entertaining enough: a young lad, Milo, who lives with his mum, is bratty and lippy. After a heated exchange with his mother (who has bust him for trying to avoid eating his broccoli by feeding it to the family cat) he expresses the wish – as petulant kids often do – that he didn’t have a mom. Unbeknownst to him, however, planet Mars is on a mission to harvest earth moms with good child-rearing skills. It’s a long story, and I’ll leave the film to bore you with those details, but the long and short of it is that the evil Martians abduct his mother that very night. Milo manages to stow away aboard the aliens’ spacecraft, and an adventure is born. Needless to say, the boy will soon regret his harsh words – and prove his love for his mom.

Although it bears the Disney badge, this tale, based upon the children’s book by Berkeley Breathed, is the product of a Robert Zemeckis outfit, ImageMovers Digital. And therein lies one of its biggest problems. Mr Zemeckis – much as I’ve loved his movies over the years – appears to be irretrievably welded to a technology known as motion capture, in which actors have computer sensors dotted all over their faces and bodies which inform the behaviour of computer-animated characters. He used the technology in A Christmas Carol, the animated 3-D movie which starred Jim Carrey. In that film, most of the characters appeared squint to me. In this film, emotions and expressions still seem trapped within the rigid, computer-animated faces. If you’re going to depend so heavily on the actual actors for facial expressions and body movements, then for goodness’ sake, just use the actors as they are, and place them, if necessary, within a computer-generated environment – as happens in Tron Legacy and Thor.

The sentiments expressed in the film are noble ones, and are quite appropriate to the Disney brand, but I couldn’t get over the bloodless 50-yard stares of these motion-capture avatars. The technology is honestly not worth pursuing. If you’re going to use sensors to (try and) replicate the facial expressions and body language of the characters, then why not cut out the middle man and use the real thing? The whole point of animation, as I understand it, is to stylise and exaggerate, in such as way as reality can’t. Motion capture technology is merely robbing animators of their powers, and I truly believe that Uncle Walt would be mortified to have his name attached to such endeavours.

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