The zany and wacky minds at Illumination have finally unlocked the cheat code to the world’s most beloved Italian plumber. Instead of trying to clumsily adapt them into sci-fi elements (much like the entertainingly bad 1993 film), directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, and screenwriter Matthew Fogel, decided to embrace them directly. With The Super Mario Bros Movie, there are certainly nits to pick, but this is the closest one can get to a lucid moviegoing experience of Mario.
The source material is anything but charitable for adapting to movie form. The game itself has threatening turtles, power-up boxes, chomping plants, giant fire-breathing baddies, and loads of other concepts that work better together than they should. But ripping these 8-bit visions from the game to orchestrate a coherent film is harder than winning all the Rainbow Ride challenges on Nintendo 64.
[Warning: Light Spoilers and impressions from The Super Mario Bros. Movie are below!]
The Super Mario Bros.Movie — an attempt to explain an embargoed story
Due to studio requests, an in-depth discussion of minor plot details is handcuffed momentarily. But here is an effort to break down the movie without going too deep. Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are plumbers (obviously). They accidentally end up in a strange realm, one of them being the Mushroom Kingdom. The brothers get separated and Mario enlists the help of the famous Toad (Keegan-Michael Key)— the spirited nonhuman little man with a mushroom head—and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), the Princess of Mushroom Kingdom.
As seen in the trailers, Jack Black plays Bowser (the King of the Koopas) who runs around with soldier Koopas to collect Super Stars. The motives for obtaining these items are surprisingly hilarious. Jack Black’s deep growl-like comedic voice fits perfectly for the character. The audience can feel him having the time of his life voicing the role. And those who are concerned about Chris Pratt as Mario, the film has issues, his performance as the central character is the least of them.
While searching for Luigi, the animated film sprinkles an assortment of recognizable aspects from the game as well as tons of easter eggs for kids and adults to catch. There are Piranha Plants, Power-Ups, Mario creatures of every variety, and yes, the economy somehow relies on Mushroom People hitting coin boxes. Logically, none of these details make any sense as a functional universe, but they are not intended to. Illumination is simply asking the viewer to immerse themselves in the world of Mario and let go of rationale.
Eye-popping animation scenes in this film from Illumination
Illumination is relatively known for its smooth and dynamic animation. Regardless of how anyone feels about the Despicable Me franchise, no one can argue how bright and crisp the CG animation looks in their movies. The same is true with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The Illumination aesthetic matches perfectly with the characters of Mario.
The film has sequences inspired by the video game that many will wish lasted longer. There are action moments that use tracking viewpoints from the side, such as character fights, and the view follows them from left to right. Reading this, one might assume this is a painstakingly terrible choice, like the first-person mode in the DOOM movie. Instead, it feels playfully engrossing, much like the overhead shot in John Wick 4.
Nitpicking The Super Mario Bros. Movie
The movie is far from perfect. Many sequences fall into some of the same bad habits seen in The Minion movies. This is not surprising considering Matthew Fogel scripted Minions: The Rise of Gru. The humor is mercilessly not juvenile (such as fart jokes), more so overplayed gags that have been used in countless other kid movies. However, the most important criterion is that the film respects children, which is a feat this movie accomplishes.
Many have complained about the needle drops. For example, the “Battle Without Honor Or Humanity” track from Kill Bill plays over a humorous scene involving Bowser. Again, it’s attempting the easy laugh by using a recognizable song. It’s understandable why some would find it an obnoxious creative choice, but out-of-place needle drops are not enough to tank the entire experience.
Super Mario Bros. Movie is a decent nostalgic tribute
It’s hard to decipher what the expectations are for this movie. The game has a superpower that involves wearing a raccoon suit while throwing fireballs. There will never be an adaptation of The Super Mario Brothers that is not somewhat nonsensical in implementation.
The voice cast is clearly having a blast bringing the iconic characters to life, the different locations – the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser’s Castle, etc. – are playfully alive and visually pleasing, and there are clever attempts at adapting even some of the more mundane aspects of the game (such as a rotating fire bar).
Although imperfect, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is exactly what it needed to be as an animated film. A fun and colorful animated spectacle for the generations of children and parents who grew up playing the game. There are quibbles to be discussed but this is an acceptable win for the Nintendo audience.
My rating for the film:
★★★ / ♥♥♥
The Super Mario Bros. Movie arrives in theaters April 5, 2023! Are you excited to see the film? Which other Nintendo property would you like to see adapted in some form? Let us know on Twitter or in the Cosmic Circus discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, another film based on a successful game franchise!