Mars Needs Moms Looks Horrible, Kills Disney Motion Capture Department
March 15, 2011

This New York Times article on Mars Needs Moms, the Disney movie released last Friday, calls it a flop “so disastrous that they send signals to broad swaths of Hollywood” — in this case, that no one likes motion capture.

Mars Needs Moms poster

The movie cost an estimated $175 million dollars, once you add in marketing, and on its opening weekend, it took in under $7 million (and that’s including the 3-D upcharges many theaters tack on; it also did horribly overseas). The Times calls it “on track to become one of the biggest box-office bombs in movie history, on par with such washouts as The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

Disney has since closed ImageMovers Digital, its motion-capture animation division run by Robert Zemeckis, one of the movie’s producers. Motion capture is the creepy technique used in such films as
The Polar Express. Actors are covered with sensors, and their movements are mapped onto computer models. The result is often disliked by audiences for looking “unnatural” when it comes to human characters, which were the focus of this film.

Zemeckis had planned to make a remake of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine using this technique, but after the failure of Mars Needs Moms, plans for that movie were cancelled by Disney. The lessons learned may be even more extensive. As the Times says, “As the first big-budget computer animated movie to flop, Mars Needs Moms tells some film executives that the market is becoming saturated.” Gnomeo & Juliet and Rango were already playing when MNM opened; Hop (which I think looks cute) and Rio are due out next month.

I was surprised to note the movie was based on a book by Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County). I’d seen the trailer, but it turned me off.

I wasn’t the audience, anyway — and I’m not sure who was. It looked too scary for kids, with the idea of a parent being kidnapped and the grimy tech setting, without anything to offer adults. The Hollywood Reporter has more post-mortem analysis.

13 Responses  
SKleefeld writes:  

No, the movie couldn’t flop because they can’t even get the trailer to make it look good. No, it must be those graphics guys that screwed up. Because the executives that approved this, and made all their additions and “tweaks”, clearly knew what they were doing and couldn’t possibly have worked to the detriment of the idea. No, this movie is obviously a flop for the single reason of new-ish technology.

And this is why I never go to the movies.

Grant writes:  

I’ve never liked any of the motion capture toons. On top of creepy they look horrible. I don’t even understand the point of it. Frankly, those Bakshi rotoscoped toons from the 70s were more interesting.

Also, why isn’t Disney adapting the Marvel properties they own into animated/pixar movies? I want to see that Rocket Racoon and Groot pixar movie like yesterday.

Lynn writes:  

I personally have a warm glow in my heart that Yellow Submarine has been axed. What possible purpose would a remake have?

MoCap is more or less 3D rotoscoping. Its a tool, not a style.

Diana Green writes:  

Chuck Jones used to call limited animation “illustrated radio.”
What we have here is illustrated radio in 3D, and it’s a bunch of executives’ ideas of the way kids now talk. this thing was dated the minute it came out. It’s based on just about the only Breathed book I haven’t read, but I can’t imagine his source text being so snarky and full of faux-trendy dialogue.
@Lynn: Agreed on Yellow Submarine. No way that could have been an improvement!

Grant writes:  

“MoCap is more or less 3D rotoscoping. Its a tool, not a style.”

Right. The point was that what they did with it 4 decdades ago looks more interesting than Mars Needs Moms, Polar Experss and Beowulf.

J Leeds writes:  

“Mars Needs Moms” is one of my favorite children’s books. It literally brings a tear to my eyes every time I read it (heck, I’m getting misty just thinking of it). But the previews have no resemblance to that book, other than “Milo goes to Mars”. Most of the characters aren’t from the book, the Martians look nothing like the goofy aliens in the book, and the storyline looks to have been completely redone. I have no interest at all in seeing this movie, although I was interested before they started running previews.

Johanna writes:  

Thanks for providing that comparison — I hadn’t read it, and I was curious how similar the movie and book were. Sounds like, not much.

Jack writes:  

Personally, I’ve never been creeped out by any of Zemeckis’ experiments with motion-capture. I DO think, however, that it’s rather pointless to make actors where mo-cap suits only to create a computer generated person. In other cases, especially Mars Needs Moms, the CGI used for these films are flat-out terrible in terms of quality.

Michael Tarallo writes:  

Rented it from Zune last night. It was horrible.

Shaina writes:  

I live animated kids movie and I’m a 28 mom of 2, but this was AWFUL!! The graphics were so bad my 10 year old put the movie in ands five mins later begged to change it….ugh Whata let down!

Shaina writes:  

Lol oops I ment I LOVE animated kids movies ;0P

Super Bowl Movie Ads: Avengers, John Carter, More » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] from Disney is John Carter (no “of Mars”, not after their last film with that in the title), out March […]

No Wonder Disney Keeps Buying Companies — They’re Making Up for Their Flops » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] 2011. Mars Needs Moms flops so hard that Disney shuts down its motion capture […]


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