'Mars Needs Moms' -- and inspiration

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In this film publicity image released by Walt

In this film publicity image released by Walt Disney Studios, the character Ki, voiced by Elisabeth Harnois, is shown in a scene from "Mars Needs Moms." Photo Credit: AP Photo

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In the 3-D motion-capture movie "Mars Needs Moms," Seth Green plays a young boy named Milo. Actually, Green (the "Austin Powers" films) only acted out the movements. An 11-year-old named Seth Dusky provided the voice. It's complicated. More complicated, in fact, than necessary.

"Mars Needs Moms" is the latest film to use motion capture, in which actors wearing bodysuits and facial sensors generate data for computer animation. It's a far cry from the days when animators would grin into a mirror while sketching out a smile, but the results generally don't look any more "alive" than, say, the jaunty Mickey Mouse who first appeared in 1928. What's more, computers still can't generate inspiration, something "Mars Needs Moms" sorely lacks.

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Based on a children's book by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, the film begins with a disobedient Milo discovering that his unnamed mom (Joan Cusack) is being abducted by aliens. After boarding the spaceship himself, Milo discovers the nanny-bots of Mars need reprogramming -- and his mom's brain will provide the reboot.

Milo eventually meets the Earthling Gribble (Dan Fogler), an overweight man-boy in the Rogen/Belushi mold, and Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a ditsy Martian who learned her English from 1960s television ("crazy beautiful!"). Together they form a plan to rescue Mom. Oddly, an interspecies romance blooms as well.

The characters look a little like their actors, but move with the fake fluidity that remains a hallmark of much computer animation. Overall, the film looks neither fully real nor fully imagined, which could be forgiven if "Mars Needs Moms" had something more to offer besides its nifty technology.

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