I’ve got two young kids, so seeing a theatrical release in the theater strikes about as often as a good night’s sleep. I’d wanted to see Mars Needs Moms in the theater but (surprise, surprise) hadn’t been able to due to family obligations. Home Blu-ray Disc releases, particularly Blu-ray 3D ones, are my best conduit to the outside movie-watching world. Naturally, then, I was stoked when Mars Needs Moms hit my Blu-ray 3D shelf — almost as stoked as when I saw the first 3D visuals jump off the screen and smack me upside the head.
Mars Needs Moms sets the stage perfectly in its opening sequence, with a rock — a simple, red-hued rock — sitting in the Martian soil while NASA’s Spirit or Opportunity rover gives it a once over. Never in all my life, either in reality or in my Blu-ray 3D-waching life, have I been so fascinated with a single rock. Quite simply, the 3D effects and visual fidelity of that single scene let you know that Disney’s latest theatrical release to hit Blu-ray 3D means business. It’s like you’re there yourself, riding shotgun with the rover, looking at that silly, gorgeous, lifeless rock with your own eyes.
Graphically, Mars Needs Moms has a very similar art direction to Polar Express, both in terms of its occasional trips into the “uncanny valley” and its use of unique camera angles and perspectives. It’s shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the 3D quality in Mars Needs Moms is also on par with The Polar Express, which is one of the best Blu-ray 3D releases I’ve seen.
Some of this 3D excellence is the depth of the characters themselves, which was achieved because the animated film is actually the CGI interpretation of the movie as it was performed in a motion-capture studio. Some of the 3D magic is due to the film’s lighting, which masterfully draws attention to anything with depth. Some of it is due to the characters’ facial animations and gestures, and some of it is just the way the camera moves and changes perspective, much as we saw in Polar Express during the runaway train sequence.
For example, soon after the main character, Milo, escapes from his hatch on the alien headquarters, he evades his would-be captors by jumping down a garbage chute. Although there’s nothing too overt in terms of 3D effects, the depth in this fast-moving trip down a tube is subtle enough that it looks better than a straight-up 2D presentation could ever have hoped to convey. It’s also reminiscent of The Polar Express sequence and, as are many scenes in Mars Needs Moms, reminiscent of a little series called Star Wars.
Many of the film’s early Martian sequences take place in what amount to clones of the Death Star’s hallways. Milo and his cohort, Gribble, are captured and released into the hands of what look like two Stormtroopers — manning a detention facility, no less. Several scenes take viewers back to the aforementioned garbage chute, which is an homage to the escape Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie make in Episode IV from the detention facility. And Lord help me if certain parts of Mars don’t have gears, lights and other ragtag pieces of metal that look just like the Bespin/Cloud City underbelly where Luke fights Darth Vader.
If you can look past these similarities, though, what you’ll find are some scenes with great depth perception, occasional volumetric fog that looks as if it’s floating out of your 3D TV, mechanical structures that look as if they’re staged in a shadowbox in your home, and long hallways that provide a sense of 3D scale to the entire Martian structure.
Yet it’s the characters of Mars Needs Moms that really have the best depth, an uncommon feat for most animated films. For instance, in The Nightmare Before Christmas Blu-ray 3D, the environments steal the show while the characters lag slightly behind. However, in Mars Needs Moms on Blu-ray 3D, it’s the characters that have the best sense of depth. Some of this is the result of the characters being motion-captured versions of the actors, which provided life-accurate 3D information. Some of it is the unique structures of the alien life forms simply providing nice dimensionality. But whatever the case, the sum of the characters’ 3D presentations outshines the environments in almost every situation. Put those characters in a macro environment, as Disney does at the end of the film when Milo is vaulting over the surface of Mars, and you’ll really see the juxtaposition of character and locale. The surface of Mars looks great; the characters just look that much better.
As is the case with most Blu-ray 3D films, Mars Needs Moms doesn’t have any 3D-enabled bonus features, which is somewhat disappointing considering the relative ease with which deleted scenes could have been presented on the 3D disc. You might make the argument that it’s because Mars Needs Moms is a kids’ movie, and kids aren’t technically supposed to wear active-shutter 3D glasses before the age of 6 or 7, so why bother with 3D bonuses? But if you made that argument you’d be wrong. Mars Needs Moms has a child as its main character, but the film’s written much more for the “Mom” part of the equation than the “child” part, and mommy likes her 3D. Chalk that up to another similarity with The Polar Express, I suppose.
Yet unlike The Polar Express Blu-ray 3D, Mars Needs Moms on Blu-ray 3D isn’t likely to see regular rotation in our lineup. The film is quite good, and not just “for an animated movie.” Mars Needs Moms has a great narrative, a great moral to the story and impeccable graphical fidelity. It just also happens to be a CGI film presented in 3D. Yet there are a number of great feel-good films out there, including a number of 3D Blu-rays, and Mars Needs Moms is missing that special “hook” to set it apart. With The Polar Express, the holiday theme guarantees regular plays during December, even if it does lay fallow for 11 months of the year. Mars Needs Moms doesn’t have that same vibe. Great 3D? Absolutely. Great production values? You bet. The best CG animated characters you’ve ever seen? Yep. There’s just a certain magic missing — a magic that its best visual competitor — The Polar Express — definitely has.
Check the pricing for Mars Needs Moms 3D over at Amazon using this link: Mars Needs Moms (Four-Disc Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo).
Score: 8 — Fantastic visuals, 3D characters and animations, but missing a certain longevity that its closest 3D corollary has in spades.