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Between Two Worlds, released in 1944, is the story of a mysterious voyage from London to America. As they sail, each of them guesses or is told that they are dead and on their way to where they will be judged and sent to either heaven or hell. We learn each of their stories and we see how they respond to the news and to the opportunity to think about their lives, their choices, their regrets, and their future. The passengers include a cocky American journalist always seeking an edge (John Garfield), a wealthy snob (Isobel Elsom) and her quiet husband (Gilbert Emery), a gold-digging actress (Faye Emerson), a thuggish businessman who thinks he can buy his way out of anything, a minister, and a humble woman who has devoted her life to caring for others and dreams of a quiet cottage with a garden (the luminous Sara Allgood). When the examiner (Sydney Greenstreet) arrives to talk with them about how they will be treated in the afterlife, there are a number of confrontations, realizations, surprises, and lessons learned.

This is a neglected gem with quiet power, well worth watching and discussing.

There is one perfectly charming moment in “Mars Needs Moms,” but it does not come until the closing credits, when we get some live action glimpses of the voice actors. Their faces are covered with reference dots and they are strapped into contraptions so that computers can turn them into computerized 3D animation. We get to see them perform some scenes we have just watched with much more energy and life than anything in the movie. Important note: if you are going to make a film whose moral is that mechanical objects can never replace people (or Martians), you should try not to make exactly that mistake.

Based on the illustrated book by “Bloom County’s” Berkeley Breathed, it is the story of Milo (voice of Seth Dusky, movements of Seth Green), who must rescue his mother (voice of Joan Cusack) when she is captured by Martians.

Milo’s mother makes him take out the garbage and sends him to bed after dinner for lying about eating his broccoli. He angrily tells her, “My life would be so much better if I didn’t have a mom at all!” Feeling guilty when he can’t sleep, he gets up to apologize only to see her being carried off in a space ship.

 

He manages to stow away. All of the females on Mars are busy imposing order and marching around in armor, so the children have to be raised by super-strict “nannybots.” They want to use Milo’s mom and her memories to program the nannybots because their reconnaissance revealed that she did not spoil her son the way some of the other Earth mothers do.

On Mars, Milo meets up with another human, Gribble (voice of Dan Fogler), a pudgy tech-whiz who has been hiding out from the Martians for 25 years and is given to enthusiastic exclamations like “Gribble-tastic!” Milo wants to rescue his mother before sunrise, when the emptying out of her brain will destroy her. At first Gribble wants Milo to stay so he can have a companion beyond the hairy underground creatures who have been the only living beings he has seen. But both Gribble and Milo learn something about the responsibility and joy of taking care of someone else. So the rescue gets underway with help from Gribble’s nuts-and-bolts pet and a rebel solider who intercepted some US transmissions of a silly 60’s sitcom. She thinks being a hippie chick is groovy (Elisabeth Harnois as Ki) and wants to know more about that “crazy love thing.”

This is decidedly second-tier Disney with third-tier visuals. It makes sense to give the Martians a drab color palette to evoke their oppressive environment, but it makes the experience of watching dull as well. The rows of marching female soldiers in armor evoke many other, wittier, images from “Monsters vs. Aliens” to “Metropolis” and Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” video. And there’s something just creepy about imagining a world in which the females are all domineering and robotic and the males are all incompetent and ignorant. The vertiginous 3D effects work all right unless you move your head, causing the edges of the images to splinter. And the script is weak and predictable, even for children.

The biggest problem is what animators refer to as the “uncanny valley,” the feeling of disorientation and unease we get when we see a depiction of a human face that is close but not quite right.

Our brains are naturally wired to recognize and empathize with faces with the merest suggestion of eyes, nose, and mouth. As Pixar and Disney have shown us, we can happily feel affectionate toward fish, cars, mice, dogs sharing spaghetti, and even bugs as well as simplified human-ish faces that are intended to look like plastic, as with Buzz and Woody in the “Toy Story” movies.

“Mars Needs Moms” would have worked much better if the faces of Milo, his mother, and Gribble were more stylized and caricatured. Instead, based on reference dots and computer algorithms, they are at the same time too close and not close enough to make us feel that we are watching our own species. The Martians appear more familiar than the humans, as we are powerfully reminded with the live action shots at the end when it literally comes to life. That makes this movie only Gribble-so-so.

The VeggieTales folks have a new Easter DVD for families and we have an exclusive sneak peek! And you know what that means — lots of laughs, great songs, and some gentle lessons.

It’s Easter time in Crisper County and cable news reporter Marlee Meade (Petunia Rhubarb) is hunting for a way to help others. On a tip that the old town theater will be shut down, Marlee cooks up a plan to save the stage and make a difference through the power of musical theater. With a cast of costume-clad townies, massive props and a 20-foot robot rabbit – Up With Bunnies is hatched! There’s only one thing missing the star of the show! When news spreads that singing sensation Cassie Cassava (Melinda Doolittle) is arriving to perform in her hometown church’s Easter service, Marlee gets worried. Concerned about the competition, she schemes to steal the starlet for her own pageant! But when things go haywire, will it be curtains for Marlee s dreams or will she discover the true meaning of Easter and what helping others is really all about? Find out in this hare raising adventure!

There are two great new Shalom Sesame DVDs to celebrate the spring Jewish holidays and I have one of each to give away. It’s a wonderful way to help introduce children to two of the year’s most important festivals. This year, Purim begins the evening of March 19 and the first Passover seder is on April 18.

Be Happy, It’s Purim! Everyone is dressing up for Purim, so get out your groggers and join the fun! Avigail is inspired by the story of Esther. Moishe Oofnik is his usual grouchy self…but who is that mysterious masked singer at the Purim Spiel? Guest appearance by Eva Longoria.

It’s Passover, Grover! It’s almost time to celebrate Passover, and there is no horseradish to be found. Grover, Anneliese and Avigail put their heads together to track it down, but things get tricky when there is an Oofnik involved! Guest appearance by Jake Gyllenhaal

To win one of the DVDs, send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Purim or Passover in the subject line to let me know which one you want. Don’t forget to include your address and tell me your favorite part of the holiday celebration. I’ll pick two random winners one week from today. Good luck and good yom tov!