‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’- Film Review: A Surprisingly Fun and Colorful Adaptation for the Gamers

We’ve all come to love any kind of gaming entertainment system when growing up. Playing hours upon hours of gaming to remain is the best thing in life in winnings. But whether you see yourself as a Nintendo, PlayStation, or SEGA person (I was a PlayStation guy myself), there’s only one famous character everyone knows by heart: Mario. Created by the legend Shigeru Miyamoto, you can always go right going on various strange adventures with a plumber who has gained a passion for games ever since. It has since sold millions of games worldwide and become the company’s official mascot. It was about time to give devoted fans what we’ve been asking for, finally giving us a feature film with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. If this came out 20 years ago, I can only imagine seven-year-old me would’ve been all over this movie. And even when it’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, all it tries to do is bring back that part of our childhood with entertainment, which gets the job done. 

What’s the Story: Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) are two Italian brothers running to get their own plumbing business off the ground and running in Brooklyn, New York. In trying to save Brooklyn from flooding, their attempt to fix a water main doesn’t go as planned as they accidentally get sucked into a mysterious green pipe that transports them to a realm, not our own but the Mushroom Kingdom. Separated, Mario seeks the help of Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy) and his new friend Toad (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) to go on a journey to stop the powerful Bowser (voiced by Jack Black), king of the Koopas from taking over the kingdom with the Super Star and save his brother.

Video game adaptations have been improving over the past few years; where we can confidently say there’s no point in calling them a so-called curse from films (Sonic the Hedgehog, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu) and TV (Arcane: League of Legends, The Last of Us). So the fact we have a Mario movie is nothing but satisfying. I haven’t played anything related to the series since I was a kid. But I played a few of the original games, like Super Mario World, on my old Super Nintendo and got frustrated every time I died on a level. But did you know this isn’t the first time they made this series into a movie? One might not know a weird 1986 Japanese movie (Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!) that wasn’t released in America. But those who grew up in the ‘90s remember there was the 1993 live-action movie starring the late Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the titular brothers we all want to be erased from our memories. It was a video game adaptation so infamously terrible you can’t stream it anywhere. 

Because of that, Nintendo hasn’t given the rights to any of its properties ever since to make another movie. Thankfully, going with the animation route was the brightest idea to make Mario, Luigi, and the other familiar characters come to cinematic life when Nintendo partnered with Universal Pictures and the people over at the successful animation studio Illumination. So even when I wasn’t expecting to be the Citizen Kane of video game movies, I went into this with an open mind two days before its release when all I wanted out of this was a fun time. Not once did I go into this already wanting to hate it. Did I? The Super Mario Bros. Movie was delightfully entertaining.

Sometimes being faithful to the source material will only work for some. This comes from someone who hasn’t played any Mario games in years. The last one I played was Mario Kart on the DS, by the way. Luckily, this isn’t the kind of movie that allows itself ever to be confusing when it serves as a love letter to dedicated fans of all ages. Co-directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (Teen Titans Go! To the Movies) knows the fandom is real where it seems the people over at Nintendo had their hands in crafting together a world we already and making it cinematic as they possibly can for kids to explore as their own. Just from the animation we glimpsed from the first trailer, in general, Illumination movies always look great, even the movie I question isn’t, but they didn’t miss the mark in the characters’ designs and the locations, especially the Mushroom Kingdom to make it vibrant, colorful, and attention to detail within the decent world-building. Just the sequences where they’re riding their custom karts on the Rainbow Road looked beautiful.

Like any big-budget animated movie, there will always be a massive ensemble, and this is no different when they made the announcement a couple of years ago. Of course, the most unexpected casting choice was that of Chris Pratt lending his voice to be Mario. That alone sounded too hilarious and confusing for us all. I wasn’t on the hate train towards the actor since I believe he’s a lovely guy in person, but I was willing to give him a chance until I heard what he’d sound like. However, the idea of him voicing Garfield might be another story. In all honesty, Pratt doesn’t do too bad of a job doing Mario. Better than what he gave in The Lego Movie? Probably not. It was what I had expected in my head, but what I can say was the most positive thing was he wasn’t doing a cartoonish Italian accent or attempting to do the typical Mario voice we always hear. What counts is how charmingly heroic Pratt makes the character. Initially, I thought this casting choice was very questionable, but after seeing it, I realized he was unfairly attacked because online haters love to trash him. They even started by addressing the accent before swiftly continuing. 

But it’s not just him I’m optimistic about; he’s joined alongside the talents of Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, Jack Black, and Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong were so good you don’t know if anybody else can do these characters justice. Charlie Day was a nice Luigi opposite Pratt, though he’s not in it as much as I expected. Anya Taylor-Joy was the perfect actor to take on Peach. I enjoy how they make her the typical damsel in distress, as we’ve seen in the older games, and they made her more of a badass in fighting for her Mushroom Kingdom. Jack Black made for a great Bowser, stealing nearly all his scenes as the famous villain. Does he sing? Why wouldn’t he? Trust me, nothing funnier is Bowser singing about his lust for Princess Peach on the piano. Rogen sounded like himself as Donkey Kong. Still, I couldn’t help but be pleased with his work here, and he even got to incorporate his signature laugh. And Keegan-Michael Key as Toad was very unrecognizable with a high-pitched to show he’s just as annoying as in the games.

Are countless Easter eggs to be expected? Indeed. Given how many fans are familiar with the lore, the Easter eggs don’t seem forced, and it’s enjoyable to draw attention to them throughout. Even though I didn’t immediately understand them all, I knew their meaning. The power-ups are welcoming, for sure. The “iconic” rap from The Super Mario Super Show! was used in a hilarious commercial for the plumbing service, or even when a toad tries to trick Mario into saying the Princess is in another castle gets those points for nostalgia. But it was shocking how much I laughed. Not all the jokes were hits. However, I wasn’t prepared for Lumalee from Super Mario Galaxy to have the unexpected funniest moments with that cute voice within a dark mind.

For a short 92-minute runtime, and I was shocked that it was over already, sometimes the plot goes for that simple, insanely predictable storytelling you wished could add more depth. Having the same premise of Mario saving the princess in a weird location might sustain enough attention, but this tried to change things by flipping the script with Mario and Peach trying to save Luigi. I was never bored, but simultaneously, it’s too fast-paced to make certain moments feel rushed. Since we saw Mario and Luigi’s brotherly affection early on, I wanted to spend more time with them. Also, the needle drops, in retrospect, don’t make sense when it’s in use. Maybe Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” (the second movie this year to play it after Shazam!: Fury of the Gods) but not Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” or AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” And I love the song they picked out, but they didn’t need to be in here when you already have a solid score proved by Brian Tyler that evokes the themes from Koji Kondo to capture the joy for everyone. But do you want to hear something funny? My friend thought they should’ve played “Jump Around” by House of Pain because Mario does jump a lot here. But, right as I started my car, what song came on the radio?

Who cares if the property strongly favors the nostalgic side of things? This is just one of those times when it’s a movie intended for its target audience. With the cynics picking apart every element, this might cause division. But, even with its shortcomings in front of it, I was still in a good mood as I left. Even though there aren’t many family-friendly movies out, this is the ideal holdover before the summer movie season begins. As soon as they released the trailer, it became clear that this would be Illumination’s greatest success outside the Despicable Me series. And while the studio doesn’t always have a spotless track record, this is easily their best in a decade. Also, stay for the two post-credit sequences because they likely hint at a potential sequel that I wouldn’t mind seeing.

Surprisingly, I had a blast with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Is it good enough to call it an early contender for the best-animated movie of the year? It’s early, but I don’t think so. But fans of the popular Nintendo series won’t be disappointed by this harmless adventure that’s fun for everyone and is packed with colorful visuals and tons of Easter eggs to spot.

Grade: [B]

The Super Mario Bros. Movie will be released in theaters on April 5, 2023, in 2D, 3D, and IMAX| Runtime: 92 Minutes| Rated PG for action and mild violence| Studio: Universal Pictures.

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