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still from mars needs moms and kid reporter with joan cusack Joan Cusak and Seth Green as Mom and Milo at home on Earth. (Photo ourtesy ImageMovers Digital LLC All Rights Reserved) Kid Reporter Cassandra Hsiao and Joan Cusack, who plays Mom in Mars Needs Moms. (Photo courtesy Cassandra Hsiao)

We All Need Moms!

New motion capture movie mixes adventure, comedy, and mothers

By Cassandra Hsiao | null null , null

Experience outer space as you travel on a journey with 9-year-old Milo to save his mom in the movie Mars Needs Moms. Directed by Simon Wells, this motion capture animated film is based on the book by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed.

"We took the tent poles from Berkeley's book: the kid who doesn't appreciate his mom and the moment where mom absolutely proves how much she really and truly loves him," Wells told the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps at a press event to publicize the movie. "We looked for the theme that connected those two together."

Milo's Mom is played by Joan Cusack, who brought her own intuition to the storylines.

"I have a son whose name is Miles," Cusack explained when asked about how she gets into character. "I've had many conversations with my son like Mom has with Milo — especially about broccoli." That explains why Cusack would often say Miles instead of Milo in the middle of a take!

Another character who added laughs and spiced up the movie is Gribble, played by Dan Fogler.

"Gribble is basically me with the dial turned up on my maniac side," Fogler said with a laugh. "It was cool to play a character who is 6 feet 7 inches, cause I'm not."

Yet, along with a hilarious range of physical and dialogue inventions, Fogler brought an amazing emotional depth to the character of Gribble.

"When Dan acted the scene of Gribble revealing his past, he did it so much better than we were expecting," Wells recalled. "It was one of those moments where the entire crew on set applauded at the end of his take because he made it deeply, emotionally heartbreaking."

Gribble's best bud before Milo arrives on Mars is Wingnut (Kevin Cahoon), the leader of the Hairy Tribe Guys who live in underground trash caverns and embody the lost love of Mars.

"As an actor, you're playing a creature that doesn't exist on earth and doesn't speak English," Cahoon said, describing what it was like to get into Wingnut's character. "If you think that he looks for bugs in your hair, you just have to take risks and go with that impulse. Wingnut's sort of like a chimpanzee with ADD."

So who's the bad guy behind the cold strict conduct of Mars? The Supervisor with her evil satisfaction, unwavering control, and unpredictable fury is played by Mindy Sterling, who approached the fear-provoking character with a sense of humor.

"Sometimes when you play mean, horrible characters like the Supervisor, you get a sense of fun because that is not who I am, though my son might not think so," Sterling said with a smile. "I had fun with who she is. She thinks she knows everything, but she really doesn't."

All the Martian characters have their own unique look. The movie shows the emotion in the eyes and the facial expressions through the process of mocap, or motion capture.

"The actors wear a helmet with four cameras pointed at them, which takes a little while to get used to," said Huck Wirtz, the animation supervisor. "At first they were knocking into one another and banging the cameras everywhere. The dots capture their performance. When the animators add the life into the character, you can feel the emotion on the face."

What's the secret message in the movie? Cusack, as the Mom, said it all.

"Being a mom is not about being your kid's friend," Cusack said. "It's more selfless than that. Mars Needs Moms really shows that ultimate love. It reinforces how important moms are."

Kid Reporter Cassandra Hsiao reviews Mars Needs Moms. And check out her post about the movie on the Scholastic Kids Press Corps Blog!

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