Did 'Mars Needs Moms' sink Robert Zemeckis' 'Yellow Submarine'?


Image Credit: Everett Collection

Yellow Submarine may not be departing anytime soon. Disney confirmed to EW that it’s no longer involved with director Robert Zemeckis’ 3-D animated remake of the Beatles’ 1968 movie. Disney says the decision to abandon Submarine was made several months ago, so last weekend’s disastrous $6.9 million opening for the studio’s Zemeckis-produced Mars Needs Moms can’t be blamed. But it surely doesn’t help Submarine‘s prospects for finding another distributor. “This is a monkey-see, monkey-do business,” says one rival studio executive, “and Mars probably will make some people back away.”

Mars was made for a reported $150 million by Zemeckis’ now-defunct ImageMovers Digital studio, which specialized in motion-capture animation. (Disney announced last March that it would be closing the studio once production on Mars was completed). Motion capture involves recording an actor’s performance via computer sensors, and then using that performance data to construct an animated character that may or may not resemble the original actor. Zemeckis pioneered many of the industry’s motion-capture techniques in his last three films — The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol — before James Cameron’s Avatar took the technology to another plane. The process is extremely expensive, and there is also a delicate balance in making motion-capture characters too human. Zemeckis’ films, in particular, have been criticized for entering what’s known as the “uncanny valley.” That is, the animation is so lifelike that moviegoers become acutely aware of any detail that’s slightly off, such as the “dead eyes” found on characters in The Polar Express.

But the public’s tepid response to Mars Needs Moms shouldn’t be interpreted as the death of motion capture by any means. After all, Avatar, which managed to use motion capture while steering clear of the “dead-eye syndrome,” grossed a record $2.8 billion worldwide. “I don’t think Mars is an indictment of [motion capture] at all,” says a studio executive. “Disney just missed the market. You ought to be able to put Disney’s name on your underwear and open to double digits. But they had a movie that looked real juvenile and a campaign that wasn’t compelling.”

What happens now to Zemeckis’ Yellow Submarine, which would have also employed motion capture and had already formed its cast, remains to be seen. Zemeckis is free to shop the project around to other studios, but the Oscar-winning director has also been reportedly considering a return to live-action for the first time since 2000’s Cast Away. “[Zemeckis] is such a talented guy that he should rise above this,” says an executive from another studio. “I would never say that he’s not capable of coming back with a monster.”

Comments (51 total) Add your comment
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  • jim

    Yellow Submarine is better left alone. The original is a classic and no motion-capture process will recapture it’s weird brilliance.

    • Erin

      Totally agree. I thought it was a bad idea to begin with.

    • Joker’s Lady

      BUT it would’ve been soooo cool to see lucy in the sky with diamonds on imax in 3D. I would’ve gotten high without taking any drug by just seeing it.

      • Robin

        Use your imagination instead. That’s what Paul and John and Ringo and George did.

      • ries

        actually, i think that was called lsd, not imagination.

    • aleksa

      Exactly. Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken!

  • redvector

    I thought that Castaway wasn’t that good. In fact it was boring.

    • erin

      It was also very depressing.

      • Mark

        Nothing wrong with depressing. A quality movie should elicit an emotion. That doesn’t have to be happiness.

    • PSac

      I didn’t like Forest Gump, either.

    • rick gegier

      I thought Castaway was boring the first time I saw it too, then I was basically forced to watch it again and I liked it alot. Go figure

  • Jack

    Yellow Submarine as motion capture is the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

    • Joker’s Lady

      BUT it would’ve been soooo cool to see lucy in the sky with diamonds on imax in 3D. I would’ve gotten high without taking any drug by just seeing it.

      • Robin

        Use your imagination instead. That’s what Paul and John and Ringo and George did.

  • Spelling Nazi

    It’s “plane”… not plain.

    Avatar took the technology to another plane.

    That is all

    • Todd

      Really – a website like EW.com shouldn’t be making these “message-board” types of mistakes.

  • parkR

    I really enjoyed Zemeckis’s other MotCap Monster House, but a huge part of it was due to the really good story, so that is the ultimate key here. “Mars…” was plagued by a bad script and if you put Pixar writers on a Zemeckis film, it would make tons of money…. as for the Yellow Submarine remake, if they make it look like the Beatles Rockband intro, I would watch it in a heartbeat

    • Jose

      The sad thing is that wasn’t a Zemeckis film, he produced it and it was written and directed by someone else.

  • rp421

    Yikes, I for one am glad that the Zombie Beatle Project is looking dead. I love Yellow Submarine–if Pixar was doing it I’d be more open but I agree that Monster House was the only decent animated film by Zemeckis. He can’t recognize that mc technology isn’t moving past uncanny valley and character development doesn’t seem to interest him. So leave the fab four alone!!

  • Rock Golf

    The biggest problem with MNM was people are tired of paying a premium of several dollars for a 3-D film when they can pay regular price for better quality 2-D films.
    Why would I pay $13 to see Mars Needs Moms, when for $9 I could see Rango, a thoroughly enjoyable film.

    • John T.

      Please let this be the beginning of the end of 3-D.

      • Rock Golf

        It continues the downhill slide of 3-D. There have been diminishing returns on every 3D film since Avatar. Eventually, even Hollywood will figure it out.

      • Paul

        Of course, every film since Avatar is going to be diminishing. Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all-time. 3D isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Every major blockbuster is going to be in 3D: Transformers 3, Pirates 4, Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, Spider-man, etc. Heck, even Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg’s next films are going to be in 3D.

      • calebJ

        3d died off back in the 50’s
        probably will again

        no one likes wearing glasses, especially those of us who already wear glasses to see!

      • Lorrie

        As someone who can’t go to 3-D movies (the glasses don’t work if you can’t see out of both eyes), I hope the trend dies off soon.

  • Gina C

    As a Mom who reads the story to her son at least once a week, they completely RUINED the story. That didn’t help the movie, either.

    • Flyer

      Thanks for that insight, Gina. I haven’t seen the movie, but I love the Breathed book. I’ve been puzzled how the movie could reportedly be so bad when it came from such great source material.

  • Dan

    Ok, I’ll be the first to say I was looking forward to seeing the remake. Some people just want to make conclusions and assumptions before they even see so much a a trailer or movie poster.There have been plenty of times I had no interest in seeing films, and they turn out to be box office hits, and when I am finally convinced to see them, I end up loving them.

  • teekay

    There’s something about the aesthetic of Zemeckis’ animated films that turns me off from seeing them; they always look kind of creepy to me in the previews. Funnily, I probably would have seen Yellow Submarine because it (fingers crossed) wouldn’t have that creepy pseudo-realistic look.

    • steph

      I definitely agree. They’re a little TOO realistic – the uncanny valley observation is very apt. Avatar didn’t have it because the proportions of the Navi were much different from humans.

  • Jean Genie

    Another dumb idea bites the dust. Let the Beatles be.

  • Joker’s Lady

    I completely agree that the original should be left alone or at least remastered for blue ray or re-released. But if the film is already completed and ready and I recall it was gonna be in 3D, it will most likely get a distributor because it’s the beatles. Anything beatles related that contains the original beatle songs which were going to be in the film will get a distributor. It’s the beatles. THough I think my friend and I are sad because we wanted to “get high” on the beatles music scene of lucy in the sky with diamonds in 3D!

    • Robin

      Use your imagination instead. That’s what Paul and John and Ringo and George did.

  • LOL

    How in the heck did Mars Needs Moms cost $150 million?

  • Baco Noir

    People keep forgetting that it was REALLY Peter Jackson who pushed the limits of motion capture with Gollum and later King Kong well before that bloody bore James Cameron came on the scene.

    • Jay

      You can hate on Cameron if you want to, but he’s anything but boring

      • Robin

        Well, except for that whole Avatar deal. THAT was a snooze-fest. Yes, a 3D snooze-fest. But a snooze-fest.

      • aleksa

        I’m with the other two on this one. “Avatar” was so ridiculously overrated.

  • Johanna

    Are they kidding me with a remake of Yellow Submarine? It’s appalling how little imagination exists in Hollywood today. Go back to making bad TV shows into movies which it does best!

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