“Mars Needs Moms” director Simon Wells

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Some animated heroes only dream of going to infinity and beyond. Not Milo. The brave young boy found at the heart of Walt Disney’s “Mars Needs Moms” leaves the dreaming to toys, actually boarding a rocket ship headed to the red planet when Martians kidnap his mom for an experimental, parental program.

Working from a children’s book by “Bloom County” creator Berkeley Breathed, Simon Wells and his “Mars” team have devised an interplanetary adventure that’s sure to please rambunctious, imaginative adolescents while striking a heartfelt chord with the parents who paid for the movie ticket and snacks.

Wells opted to tell his story using motion-capture technology, the kind used by “Mars” producer Robert Zemeckis for “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol.” It seemed like a natural fit for the sci-fi-tale he wanted to spin.

“What is the role of motion capture? To me, motion capture shouldn’t be making cartoony movies. Not the sort of ‘Madagascar’ movies, because people don’t move like that,” Wells explained. “There’s no point in trying to get an actor to do a Tex Avery movement. But if you create a stylization of look and movement that is caricatured but not cartoony, that’s the place that motion capture ought to be living.”

But mo-cap wasn’t Zemeckis’ only contribution to the “Mars” process. Wells and his wife, Wendy, enjoyed an intensive writing session as they collaborated on their screenplay, receiving crucial feedback from Zemeckis at almost every step of the journey.

“Wendy and I felt like we went to a graduate screenwriting program,” Wells said of he and his wife’s creative process. “We had a one-on-one for a year with Bob Zemeckis. It was just fantastic.”

In fact, Zemeckis pointed at one of his most-cherished films as a blueprint with which “Mars” needed to follow, and Wells whole-heartedly agreed.

“He tore apart the third act of our screenplay, not once but twice,” Wells said. “But the thing that is amazing about Bob is that he can do that and you leave the meeting going, ‘Oh great, we get to write it again and make it right!’ [Laughs]

“But he really kind of clarified our thinking on narrative drive, and oddly enough, we used ‘Back to the Future’ a great deal in our conversations as a structural sign post. He brought it up as an example of a simple story. And we were like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s actually a really complicated story.’ And he said no, it’s simple. It’s just what it says on the box. Marty only wants one thing. He wants to get back to the future. And there’s one place, and one time, that he can do it. And if you miss that, you are never going to get there. It’s absolutely imperative. Everything else that happens along the way gets in the way. They are hurdles to jump over. But you always know where you are trying to get to. And that’s why we ended up using the sunrise … as our goal. The sunrise doesn’t stop for anybody. It’s not like a countdown on a bob, which you can ultimately switch off. So we had a time and a place, and everything else was kind of driven by that.”

And though the movie is just now testing the waters with a theatrical release (it opens wide on Friday, March 11), we couldn’t hope but ask Wells about his upcoming “Mars” Blu-ray because of the flawless way animation translates to the cutting-edge home-video technology.

“Not only have I thought ahead, I’ve actually seen it already,” Wells said. “That’s the process, you do it straight away at the end of your movie. Of course, this movie never existed on film. It always existed digitally. Every take of every shot that I saw – and I saw every shot hundreds of times – was always digital. In fact, the first time I saw anything on film was the film version of the IMAX print. Which, by the way, looks spectacular. It’s astonishing. But then going from the digital files to a Blu-ray, you are going digital to digital. It is the way the movie was conceived to look.”

“Mars Needs Moms” opens in 3D and IMAX on Friday, March 11.

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