The latest film by animation studios “Illumination”, it’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie”! Nintendo has been a huge part of my childhood when it came to video games. Between playing as Mario on the classic Nintendo console, and racing with different characters on Mario Kart. Nintendo is a franchise I have a lot of nostalgia for.
When it was announced that a movie was being made, I immediately thought back to the disastrous live action adaptation starring Bob Hoskins which flopped so badly it practically placed a curse on any video game adaptations that came out the following decades.
However, with adaptations such as “Sonic the Hedgehog ” movies and “The Last of Us” TV series scoring well with audiences. It was time for Nintendo to come back into the spotlight with their first adaptation in years.
The movie centers on brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day), two Italian American plumbers from Brooklyn who are transported via Warp Pipe to an alternate world. Mario ends up in the Mushroom Kingdom ruled by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Luigi ends up in the Dark Lands where he is captured by Bowser (Jack Black) who obsessively seeks to marry Peach. Through powerups, kart chases, and animal costumes, it is up to Mario to level up and save the kingdom.
While I was excited to see this movie, I did have my doubts going in. For one, it was done by “Illumination”. An animation studio that has not impressed me with their films. While they made billions off of the “Despicable Me” series, a lot of their other movies felt average in comparison. It also did not help that the people who directed this film also did irreverent works such as “Teen Titans Go!”.
Thankfully, I enjoyed this movie. I was looking for something that was bright, colorful, imaginative, funny, and represented the spirit of the games. The film does all of that in an enjoyable way, and doesn’t feel the need to be anything it’s not. It does not try to force any outdated message, or any deep character drama. It is trying to be “The Super Mario Bros. Movie”, and it succeeds at that. I feel like a lot of people going to see this movie want to see fanservice from the games. They want to see characters like Mario go through multiple obstacle courses and ride on the rainbow bridge. They want to look in the background and find all the easter eggs (or Yoshi eggs in this case). It is for people who love the games and want a good time, and this film is perfect for that.
I can understand people saying there could have been more in terms of character or story. This may be the reason why some critics are ripping on this movie since they want it to stand on its own. Which is fair because if you are not aware of this world and characters then chances are you are not going to get into this. For example, there are scenes such as Mario wearing a catsuit while fighting Donkey Kong, or a Koopa (turtle) turning into a blue shell on the rainbow road. If you have not played the games, then those scenes would confuse you. But if you did then you would know how they play a role in the game. While the movie has a lot of details from the games, you do not have to be an expert to follow this story and setup. You can still watch this film and laugh at these scenes. For example, one of the funniest characters was this blue star who is imprisoned alongside Luigi. He is voiced by a child actor and constantly says morbid things of how they are all going to die which brings everyone down. In my opinion, this is one of the funniest bits in the movie.
In terms of the characters and voice cast, I felt this movie was well cast. I am aware that some of these choices were controversial when they were announced. The biggest standout to me was Jack Black as Bowser because he matched the tone and energy of the character. He’s portrayed as very big and intimidating, but he is also very funny when he acts like a simp for Princess Peach. I also thought Charlie Day as Luigi was a good choice since he matched the character’s timid but also likable personality. The rest of the cast is also good, but I will admit there were times where I felt like I was listening to the voice actors as opposed to seeing them as these characters. For example, Anya Taylor-Joy is playing herself as Princess Peach, and Seth Rogen is using his voice when he plays Donkey Kong. Surprisingly, this did not bother me because I feel like the actors chosen did emulate the characters they were playing. I will even say that I did not mind Chris Pratt as Mario. Whenever I think of Mario’s voice, I usually think of Charles Martinet who plays the character from the games. I think he is a great voice actor, but I understand why they did not choose him because the type of voice used in the games would feel repetitive in a feature length film. Now are there times where I was hearing Pratt instead of the character? Yes. But it did not bother me in any way, and it made sense with the voice choice that they went with.
If I did have an issue with the movie, I will say it could have been a bit longer. Mainly because everytime the characters feel like they are having a moment where they develop, it moves on from those scenes very fast. They did include a lot of material in the runtime that they had, but they could have incorporated more emotional investment if we had more time with these characters. Another odd choice is how the movie is called “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and Mario is separated from Luigi who is imprisoned for the majority of the film. Granted, this did not bother me as I always complained about Princess Peach getting kidnapped all the time. It also makes sense to have Luigi in this situation since he is already cowardly and it gives him an arc to overcome. But since they are already brothers with a connection as shown in the beginning, when Mario meets Princess Peach you know that a romance is going to develop between these two characters. It is a nice change of pace since it allows the characters to develop and interact with one another.
“Illumination” has made so much money over the years, that I feel like they put more effort into their animation than their story and characters. The “Despicable Me” movies look great, but they do not have much substance that will get people invested outside of the comedy. I say this because “The Super Mario Bros.” games are a unique case in that they were never about their stories to begin with. People got into them because they liked seeing these different characters explore these new worlds, and have a fun time while doing it. We had good times going through haunted mansions with Luigi, surviving Bowser’s castle, and dodging barrels thrown by Donkey Kong. They are not deep stories by any means, but we look back on them fondly because they were fun adventures we had during childhood. I feel like “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” understands that and allows people to enjoy its simplicity and imagination. I remember exiting the theater thinking that the Nintendo franchise was perfect for “Illumination” It had a simple story, but it also had imaginative characters and worlds to explore. I can easily see them making a sequel to this as well as other films such as “Luigi’s Mansion”, “Donkey Kong Country”, “Yoshi’s Island”, and even a “Super Smash Bros.” movie which includes other Nintendo properties.
After so many failed attempts at bringing video game adaptations to the big and small screen. I am grateful that we are living in a time where people are accepting, and outright demanding that they represent what made the original source material so great. Is this movie going to challenge anybody in any way? No. But that is okay. It was meant to be a colorful, imaginative, fun time much like the games. What else can I say but, “Wahoo!”