by Meredith O'Brien
*Warning: Spoilers from Mars Needs Moms.*
At least this was one Disney movie where the mom wasn’t dead and there was no “evil” step-mom who harassed the hero of the film.
Instead, when I took my 9-year-old son to see Mars Needs Moms , I was surprised to find that main point, driven home with the finesse of a sledgehammer, was that not only did Mars need moms, but everybody does, specifically a “good” mom.
What did the film consider to be a “good” mom? A woman who held her 9-year-old son accountable, made sure he did his chores and didn’t slack off. The mom actually followed through with her threat about what would happen if her son disobeyed her. What was considered a “bad” mom? The moms who indulge their children and allow their offspring to throw temper tantrums and reward their kids in the face of said tantrums in an attempt to get them to stop.
Okay, so far so good. It was a great message for my kid to absorb, that a mom who says you can’t watch TV unless you eat your vegetables and actually sticks to her guns, is considered a good, thoughtful parent. (In the movie, when the mom learned that her son lied to her about eating his broccoli – he fed it to the cat who then puked it up -- she didn’t let him watch any more TV and sent him to his room. This is the chief reason why I think my son wasn’t too keen on the flick.)
But when the “good” mom was kidnapped by Martians, this is where things got a wee bit confusing as far as what messages about mothers the movie was sending. The “good” human mom was considered by the Martians to be so good at being a mother that they wanted to extract all her maternal skills from her brain (a process which would inevitably kill her) and transfer that knowledge to “nanny-bots” that the Martians would use to raise their newborn female Martians while the newborn male Martians were discarded into a landfill with the trash . . . wait . . . what?
That’s right, the Mars of Disney’s writers’ imagination is one run entirely by a matriarchy, in particularly, a screechy, evil shrew named The Supervisor who so disliked childrearing and was so angry that the male Martians never helped with any of it, that she decreed that all the female baby Martians be raised by robots (programmed by the brains of “good” human moms) and that all the males be banned from proper Martian society. The animalistic males, living amidst the trash heaps deep beneath the ground, were unkempt though happy-go-lucky dudes.
In the end, as you might expect, this societal construct was repudiated. The notion of parents – mothers and fathers – raising their own children wound up being embraced by the Martians. (It’s worth noting that the one human dad in the film was away on a business trip until the very end of the movie.) The human mother did have a moment to shine when she showed her son that she was willing to sacrifice her life for him, even though for most of the movie she was lying in some kind of a coma and her son Milo was the one who had to free her from the Mommy Memory extraction machine. Sure, she was a good mom, but she was inactive for most of the duration as the action centered on Milo’s attempts to save her.
Now this is where I scratched my head. Milo’s mom -- I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning her name other than “Mom” -- was held up as a role model mother and had a single heroic moment at the climax of the movie, but she was mostly tied down to a gurney. The Supervisor, who reigned over all the other compliant Martian females with a violent, iron fist, was patently evil. The only other positive female role model was a Martian gal named “Ki” who liked to illegally plaster colorful flower graffiti everywhere and who helped Milo. Kind of a mixed message if you ask me.
While I was happy to have witnessed a theatrical reinforcement of the notion that being a good mom includes teaching a child to do his chores and eat a well balanced diet, I wasn’t sure what my son would make of the demonization of a society run by women and how the motivation for banning all the males to the trash heap was female anger over the fact that they didn’t help out with the childrearing.
“So, what didja think?” I asked my son as we walked out of the theater.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Was that supposed to be a comedy or something?” he asked.
“You know, I’m not sure,” I replied.