Mars Needs Moms, Simon Wells, 88 min (PG)
Rio, Carlos Saldanha, 92 mins (U)
Tomorrow, When the War Began, Stuart Beattie, 104 mins (12A)

Well done, Disney: you scared the kids

One of the two 3D cartoons released this week, Mars Needs Moms, employs the performance-capture technology pioneered by its producer, Robert Zemeckis, on The Polar Express and Beowulf.

In the United States, the film has been such a flop that Disney has pulled the plug on any further projects using the same technique, but that's a classic example of Hollywood missing the point. If Mars Needs Moms bombed, it's not because of the performance capture, but because the film is upsetting enough to have small viewers begging to go home.

Its hero is a nine-year-old boy whose mother is kidnapped by aliens, the leader of whom looks like ET in a dress. The boy, Milo, makes it to Mars to rescue her, but while he's there he risks disintegration and asphyxiation, with no one to help him but a babbling, deceitful, corpulent weirdo named Gribble. If that sounds dark, the story's metaphorical darkness is matched by the real thing. Mars Needs Moms may be set on the Red Planet, but the baddies' headquarters is glacially grey, and Gribble's hideout is a rusty brown. Children used to the kaleidoscopic cartoons of Pixar and Sony won't be happy.

As a grown-up, I enjoyed Mars Needs Moms, at least until its over-plotted final stretch. At times, there's a Spielbergish air of spine-tingling awe, and at times it's like Star Wars remade by Terry Gilliam. But, like the recent Rango, it's probably not for children. And if the film has hit Disney's bank balance, the company deserves everything it gets for the egregious scene in which Milo realises how important his mother is to him. "My mom is kind," he mewls. "She takes me to Disneyland."

Rio – a harmless, vibrantly colourful cartoon – is a safer bet for families. Jesse Eisenberg voices a nerdy macaw who lives in comfortable captivity in Minnesota. An ornithologist persuades his owner to bring him to Brazil, where he can mate with the only other surviving bird of his species (voiced by Anne Hathaway). But a run-in with smugglers leaves the parrots with their claws chained together, out in the streets of Rio de Janeiro during (of course) the carnival.

There's nothing in Rio that will upset young viewers, and plenty that will entertain them, but the script isn't great: for much of the film the heroes and their numerous sidekicks are, effectively, on a sightseeing tour of the city. It's a shame that the seven screenwriters couldn't have cleared out some of the extraneous characters to make room for the underused villain, a sadistic cockatoo voiced by Jemaine Clement. If he'd had more screen time, audiences would have flocked.

In Tomorrow, When the War Began, eight Australian teenagers resort to guerrilla warfare when their home town is invaded by an unspecified, South-east Asian army. Some critics, naturally, have cried racism, but that's unfair to Stuart Beattie's film, which is adapted from a young-adult novel by John Marsden. The teens themselves are scrupulously multiracial, and there's little of the air-punching triumphalism you might expect. Instead, the nuanced characters do lots of sitting down and debating whether they have the right to kill the enemy infantry.

It's unusually intelligent for an action movie – which is not to say that it lacks the requisite car chases and massive explosions. Its only problem is that, like so many films based on the first in a series of books, it's obviously intended as the first in a series of movies, so there's no attempt at a satisfying ending. Still, in this case a sequel would be welcome.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber goes on holiday with Marion Cotillard and friends in Little White Lies, from the director of Tell No One

Also Showing: 10/04/2011

The Roommate (91 mins, 15)

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the writer of Single White Female should be tickled pink by this vacuous remake, but everyone else will be bored to tears. It establishes the creepiness of the heroine's new roommate in the opening minutes...and then it keeps re-establishing that creepiness for an hour before she poses any kind of threat.

The Silent House (86 mins, 15)

A young woman stays in a boarded-up country cottage with her father, and soon starts hearing things that go bump in the night. This Uruguayan chiller was apparently shot in a single, unbroken take, so it earns points for originality. But I spent a lot more time admiring the technical achievement than I did being frightened.

Rubber (78 mins, 15)

Postmodern horror comedy about a sentient car tyre rolling through the desert making people explode with its psychic powers. It might have worked as a 15-minute short film.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks