An adventure doused in primary colours running at breakneck pace, but despite celebrating Mario’s vast history it struggles to offer anything else of substance in its delivery.
BY ALEX GILSTON APRIL 11, 2023
A video game titan gets the big screen experience once more; this time in animated form from Despicable Me creators Illumination. Some of Nintendo’s biggest characters all come together to save the Mushroom Kingdom from the tyrannical Bowser in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. It’s an adventure doused in primary colours running at breakneck pace, but despite celebrating Mario’s vast history it struggles to offer anything else of substance in its delivery.
After the success of Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog amongst fans and at the box office; it was only a matter of time until Mario, one of the most popular video game characters of all time, would get his turn in the cinematic spotlight again. But this time the tables have turned from live-action to animation. Mario and Luigi are brothers living in Brooklyn starting a plumbing business together. On their path to their first big break they happen across a green pipe that transports them to another world. They are split up and Mario finds himself in the Mushroom Kingdom where he meets Princess Peach. The two of them team up to find Luigi and stop the monstrous Bowser from annihilating the worlds. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is about as straightforward as a Mario game. Coursing from one level to the next and defeating the final boss. So those hoping for this film to add any kind of depth to Mario and his friends will be disappointed.
Nostalgia is on the menu in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. In fact it’s the only thing on the menu, a full 3 course meal of gluttonous nostalgia. Every frame has a nod to some part of the Mario Bros. Canon. Famous sayings, and characters are littered everywhere. The score is embedded with the sound of our childhoods sometimes with a hint of subtlety but most of the time like a slap in the face. In a film where these things accentuate a plot that at least tries to be different - see Sonic the Hedgehog - it’s nice to be able to relive them. However when the film is reliant on these things to peddle through, it becomes too much, and what’s left is a shallow representation of the subject in question. When you come to terms with the fact that this film is made by the studio who created the Minions and subsequently beat that dead horse to the fiery pits of hell, it all makes a lot of sense.
A big source of conversation around The Super Mario Bros. Movie has been its star-studded voice cast. Jack Black does a lot of the heavy lifting as Bowser, and Anya Taylor-Joy is a brilliant Princess Peach. Charlie Day doesn’t get much to work with as Luigi but definitely comes out as one of the least unscathed. Things start to go wrong with Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong who feels out of place. You can never shake the fact that it’s Rogen instead of wanting to believe it’s DK. Chris Pratt continues to be an egregious choice for the main man Mario. It’s all one note and doesn’t embody the little Italian plumber we know and love. There’s a sense that not even Nintendo and Illumination had faith in Pratt to deliver, as when he says some of Mario’s most famous lines it’s always in slow-motion. This could have been a bit - an unfunny one at that - but it looks like him saying “It’s a me Mario” at normal speed was just too horrible to put in the final edit.
It’s not all dry bones though; the animation has a particular sheen to it. The world is realised in beautifully bright technicolour, and the character design has a pinpoint accuracy which is one of the big advantages of it being animated. Unfortunately it makes it all the more disappointing that everything else around this - which from an animated filmmaking perspective is next level - is so lacklustre.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie will likely make a ton of money at the box office and spawn a franchise similar to that of Sonic. As a really simple kids film it ticks all the boxes; however in a world where we have animated films like Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, that achieve everything this film does but also tries to be something fresh and interesting, then it’s clear it doesn’t deserve the same level of prestige.