Video game movies … they’re a cinematic conundrum. While there’s always plenty of excitement, more often than not, they don’t work. So, it’s easy to go into these tenuous blockbusters with a bit of trepidation. Truthfully, I felt doubly trepidatious as I sat down in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Was this really needed? Why play with such a well-loved property? I must admit, kids, that my initial thoughts are sometimes miles off-base. Is this a video game movie that works? Read on!
The Super Mario Bros. Movie follows the lovable plumbers we know so well as they are sucked through a pipe into the magical Mushroom Kingdom. When Luigi (Charlie Day) goes missing, Mario (Chris Pratt) must team up with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) to defeat Bowser (Jack Black). Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen and Kevin Michael Richardson co-star in the movie. Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic direct the film from a script by Matthew Fogel.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie comes out of Illumination Entertainment, and full disclosure, the studio’s prevailing sense of humor works for yours truly. The production company came on the scene in 2010 thanks to the Despicable Me series, and those who love those movies, and their “Minion-y” goodness, will find a lot to love here as well. Could the Toads be the new Minions? They are just as adorable, and they know it, too.
Outside of Illumination, though, The Super Mario Bros. Movie meets (and entertains) audiences on a number of levels. It easily injects humor that will strike a chord with kids and the grown-up Mario fan. Even someone like me, whose Mario experience is limited to Nintendo 64 and Mario Kart on the Wii, never felt like I was missing out on a joke. The production brings a seamless blend of Easter eggs and world-building, populating every inch of the screen with something fun to see.
I will admit I was largely skeptical going into this movie due to the primary voice casting. Chris Pratt received the brunt of the hemming and hawing in the lead-up to release. Ultimately, while Pratt does not sound like the Mario of my childhood, the change never feels glaring. Instead, Horvath and Jelenic make a smart decision to focus on larger world-building beyond Mario and Luigi. With that, the result is some inspired decisions related to casting and voice direction.
As Mario, however, Pratt is grounded. He sounds like Star-Lord with a touch of a New York accent (and an occasional “Mamma Mia!”). Interestingly, in this story, Mario functions as an audience surrogate. As Princess Peach reminds us when she introduces him to the Toads early in the film, Mario is “not important.”
Yes, this is The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and ultimately, the Brothers are not the focus here. Mario, as mentioned, is the audience surrogate, while Luigi is the “Damsel in Distress.” Day, in particular as Luigi, doesn’t have a heck of a lot to do in the narrative, and it does feel like a waste of the talented voice actor.
However, the joy in this movie is what’s going on in the ensemble behind them. This, of course, is led by Jack Black as Bowser, who sinks his teeth into the role in all his wackiness. The rock ballads he sings about Princess Peach are delightful standouts in the movie. “Peaches” is quite a banger. At the same time, his banter with Kamek (Kevin Michael Richardson doing a flawless Peter Lorre impression) is also a humorous high point.
Outside the main cast, the movie creates an entertaining and memorable world. It smoothly integrates nostalgia but often has the confidence to flip these moments on its head. Whether it’s the fight scene on Rainbow Road to the Toad general with the booming voice, Mario’s distaste for mushrooms or even a character who is so strangely dark and existential, you can’t help but laugh. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments throughout the film to keep it enjoyable.
Last but certainly not least, one can’t discuss an animated film without mentioning the art. The film’s fantasy world allows the artists and designers to sink their teeth into the Mushroom Kingdom’s beauty and whimsy, avoiding many of animation’s current struggles. From the colors to the textures, there is a rich and vivid life in this world. Rainbow Road has never looked quite so intimidating.
For me, The Super Mario Bros. Movie was one of the most welcomed theatrical experiences and a pleasant surprise. There’s so much room for a film like this to drop into corporate-geared franchise drudgery; however, the video game movie avoids most of these pratfalls. There’s something here for almost everyone, from the kids to the OG Nintendo players and those in between.
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The Super Mario Bros Movie opens in theaters nationwide on April 5, 2023.