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Mars Needs Moms
  • Composed by John Powell
  • Walt Disney Records download / 2011 / 49:20

I can’t be the only person who feels like bringing out that famous Captain Picard facepalm picture whenever he sees the words “motion capture” and “Robert Zemeckis” within the same sentence; oops, need to bring it out again.  Zemeckis served as produced of Mars Needs Moms, directed by Simon Wells, whose film of his great-grandfather’s The Time Machine almost a decade ago seems to have simultaneously started and ended his career directing live action films.  Wells worked with James Horner on his first few animations before perhaps his most famous, The Prince of Egypt, saw him collaborate with Hans Zimmer.  In 2011, if you’re making an animated film and you don’t work for Pixar, you must follow the United Nations Security Council Resolution which forbids you from hiring a composer who has not at some point in his career been associated with Zimmer.  Fortunately, there is no finer film composer who fits that description than John Powell, whose services were hence secured.

Powell scores approximately 4.5 million animated films each year – and he’s very good at it.  Last year’s How To Train Your Dragon didn’t strike me as being one of his more distinguished efforts, but I was seemingly alone in that opinion; Mars Needs Moms represents a real return to form as far as I’m concerned, his finest score for an animation since the wonderful Happy Feet.  First and foremost, it is fabulously great fun, the composer seemingly having a blast with the story’s humour (maybe some of the four other people who have seen the film also had a blast with it, it’s not altogether clear).  There’s a great main theme which is exploited an awful lot through the score, but Powell has a way of writing such fluid melodies, it never grows tiresome.  There’s some magnificent orchestral action music; the requisite softer passages which are perfectly positioned in the album to offer lovely breathing room; delightful Elfmanesque theremin (I know purists will shout “How dare he!  It’s not Elfmanesque, it’s Herrmannesque!” but this is channelling Mars Attacks! more obviously than anything else); it’s simply a whole heap of fun, pure entertainment from start to finish.  ****

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  1. Josh (Reply) on Wednesday 16 March, 2011 at 23:07

    Another reviewer says of the score to Mars Needs Moms, “There are an abundance of moments in this score when Powell references techniques by either James Horner or Jerry Goldsmith.” He goes into more detail throughout the review, but I wanted to get your thoughts on that comment in general. I must admit, I’m a relative novice when it comes to Goldsmith and “vintage” Horner; but not once did Horner or Goldsmith cross my mind when listening to this score. Just curious if you heard any references to those two composers and, if so, if those references were blatantly obvious.

  2. James Southall (Reply) on Wednesday 16 March, 2011 at 23:30

    I didn’t hear any Horner or Goldsmith in there. I thought there was a bit of a tongue-in-cheeck Williams reference, but that may just have been coincidence so I didn’t mention it.

  3. Josh (Reply) on Thursday 17 March, 2011 at 04:35

    OK. Just curious. With half the scores that come out these days, there tends to be someone somewhere (whether a reviewer or an average film score aficionado) who thinks they’ve discovered obvious temp-track references. I used to think “Hm, that’s interesting; maybe they’re right and I just missed it”; but I like to think I have a semi-discerning ear from my years as a film score enthusiast, and it seems that people sometimes read too much into perceived similarities between scores.

    Yes, it’s true that artists are influenced by the art all around them, and oftentimes directly by their peers (past or present); in that sense, no art is truly original. The question is to what extent the influences of an artist bleed through to become obvious to the observer.

    Anyway, just my two cents. Or possibly a few more. 😉

  4. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 18 March, 2011 at 19:12

    I’m going to haul this out again…

    …How to Train Your Dragon not one of Powell’s most distinguished efforts????

    I’m sorry, but Powell juggles about half a dozen incredibly memorable themes throughout that score, puts them through endlessly refreshing variation, with joyous energy up the wazoo and “Forbidden Friendship” is the single highlight of his career so far. Even if the themes don’t move you, you have to admit that he develops them really well. And the album NEVER drags. Plus, I don’t get your complaint about the synth brass. All the brass playing in that piece is really vibrant (and very complex, too). And here you are giving Inception – the synthbrassiest score in existence – five stars, but pulling them off HTTYD for the same reason. HuH???

    I agree with the rest of the review. But it certainly isn’t a “return” to form…more like a continuation.

  5. James Southall (Reply) on Friday 18 March, 2011 at 20:29

    I did say I was probably alone in that opinion!

  6. Michael (Reply) on Sunday 20 March, 2011 at 05:27

    Not hard to predict an angry comment from Edmund here. I also think HTTYD is a fantastic score, but can accept that some people don’t have that opinion. I might even say that despite being a 5 star score to me, HTTYD was perhaps slightly over-rated. I do also totally see where Southall is coming from in regards to the brass, it is very synthetic and that would be a detraction for some (not me however, I actually quite enjoy brass like that), and the synthetic brass is far more out of place in HTTYD than it is in Inception where it is entirely suitable. Inception is a very synthetic score, not to mention the fact that any brass will sound processed when it is meant to mimic a slowed down version of the brass from another song. That type of brass is all a part of the atmosphere created by Zimmer, whereas in HTTYD it stands out as being a bit inappropriate.

    However I agree, Forbidden Friendship is for me the best cue of Powell’s career and the best cue of 2010.

  7. Mikal (Reply) on Thursday 24 March, 2011 at 04:53

    Oh, Edmund… As soon as I saw you’d responded to this review, I knew what to expect. 😛 You really ought to let it go, man. If I flipped out every time I heard someone say they disliked Titanic, I’d probably consider it a full-time job. The point is, I refuse to let someone else’s harsh words diminish my enjoyment of a score I love (and there’s been PLENTY of criticism leveled against Titanic, by multitudes of people, including both you and Southall) and suggest you follow suit. Live and let live, my friend.

  8. Mikal (Reply) on Thursday 24 March, 2011 at 04:55

    And, to clarify, Southall has never stated he disliked HtTYD; he simply found aspects of it lacking, but generally enjoyed it.

  9. John C (Reply) on Wednesday 11 May, 2011 at 22:22

    The “vintage Horner” of which Mr. Clemenson speaks is the chorus in the beginning of the first cue. Horner used that kind of thing in Krull. Some of the muted trumpets and trombones in the cue “To the surface” was used in a lot of Goldsmith Star Trek and sci fi scores. These references were subtle, but noticable. Still im not one to complain about such things as my favorite composer is James Horner.