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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape