FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological, cosmological*
“Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.”-- C.G. Jung
MARS NEEDS MOMS, adapted from a story by Berkely Breathed (which I have not read), is a lightweight kid's drama for the most part, though once or twice there are some ideas in it which, though erratically expressed, have some genuine mythopoeic resonance.
The title riffs on the 1967 film MARS NEEDS WOMEN, which concerned invaders from the Red Planet plundering Earth to capture nubile women for purposes of breeding. In MOMS, the Martians have evolved away from pair-bonding and have worked out the breeding problem with ruthless efficiency. The Martians have formed a quasi-Amazonian society in which the females inhabit Mars' surface while the males are dumped down beneath the crust's surface, where they dwell alongside the refuse of the females' technological civilization. Given that the film is aimed at preteens (the central protagonist is nine), there is no direct allusion to matters of breeding. Still, one assumes that the males are being kept around for something: that the hatchlings who burst not from wombs but from incubation-cubicles must be fertilized from both genders since they include female and male.
So breeding is no problem, but the Martian females have a literal "nanny state," in which most of them serve as soldiers and the hatchlings are raised by nanny-robots. The robots seem to work best, though, when they get a personality-transfusion from "real moms," females who still nurture their own young. This is where Earth comes in, when the Martians decide to swipe the mom of a kid named Milo.
Just before the Martians strike, Milo, a standard lazy-ass American kid, has rebelled against performing some mild chores by telling his mom (never given a name of her own) that he could do without a mother. Moments later (shades of HOME ALONE), the Martians fulfill his wish. Fortunately Milo catches up to their spaceship and stows away as the ship returns to Mars. He's soon separated from the object of his quest, and the rest of the film involves assorted helter-skelter adventures as Milo keeps trying to rescue his mom and return to Earth, all the while giving the audience a view of the deep schism of Martian society.
Naturally Milo can't fight all of Mars alone, so he providentially acquires two vital helpers. The first is Gribble, a pudgy man-child from Earth who came to Mars the same way Milo did, but failed to save his mother (who was decorously disintegrated after having her persona downloaded). Gribble was thus stranded on Mars, eking out his existence in the giant trash-heap alongside the Martian males, all of whom seem to possess no cognitive skills whatever. Amusingly, one of Milo's statements to his mom during his mild rebellion indicated that he thought it would be great if no one ever had to take out the trash, so he gets his "wish" when he ends up in the mountainous land of refuse. Again, in deference to the audience, it's all "cool trash," nothing ugly or depressing.
Milo's second helper is a young Martian female, Ki, who became disenchanted with the regimeneted world of her people after happening across a television-broadcast from Earth-- which, having been delayed by the time it took the television signals to reach Mars, featured the then-current Earth-phenomena called "hippies." Even prior to Milo's arrival, Ki endeavors to rebel against the dull military decor of her society by sprucing it up with psychedelic paint-schemes. Upon meeting Milo by accident, Ki resolves to help him save his mother. She ends up fulfilling her dream to break down the rigid barriers of her society by finding evidence that the schism between the genders is not natural: that it's been engineered by the females' supreme leader: the incredibly wizened "Supervisor," who has issues with men and procreation and who seems to be the only really old Martian on the planet.
As presented the schism-idea doesn't bear much close scrutiny. A similar gender-division scenario in the STAR TREK episode "Spock's Brain" is more believable. But it's interesting on two levels.
One is the idea of using the gender-bifurcation to comment upon divisions in the human(oid) spirit. The Jung quote above cites one such conflict in the opposition of love and the desire for power, the desire to control. Before the Martians visit Milo's home, his mom is "the power" in his house (the dad is seen briefly and in such a way that the film establishes his fundamental irrelevance to the mother-son quarrel). Of course once Milo's mom is stolen, all he can think about are the associations of love he holds for her, and his conviction sparks the Martians to rediscover those principles. But in opposing and destroying the Amazon society of Mars-- another case of women being too controlling-- one might say that Milo is still contending with the "shadow side" of maternal domination. There's no reason given as to why all the Martian males have become cretins who simply imitate what they see others do, but since the Martian females have monopolized reason and order, the Martian males implicitly become the "shadow" to their efforts: a bunch of thoughtless, childish, "good-time-Charlies" (not unlike the hippies on whom Ki becomes fixated)
The second level is that of inspiration. Since the director was Simon Wells, great-grandson of H.G. Wells, one might've expected to see him emulate some aspect of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. Instead, a few aspects of MOMS seem borrowed from the Mars books of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Since Disney launches its own JOHN CARTER this year, it's not impossible that someone took inspiration from the Burroughs books. Summaries of the Breathed book from 2007 don't allude to the Martians' having a gender-divided society, so my bet is that Wells (who co-wrote the screenplay) took a leaf from some of the exotic societies of the Burroughs Mars books-- the society of the Tharks, for instance, who raise their children communally rather than allowing them to be parented by bonded pairs. And of couse, like the hero John Carter, Milo does a lot of leaping around on low-gravity Mars, though the emotional tone here draws from the mythos of the drama rather from the mythos of adventure to which John Carter belongs.
Erratic as the film is in some respects, this may well be Simon Wells' best film thus far.