Movie Review: The Super Mario Bros

Nintendo made their first attempt to introduce their most recognizable character to the big screen over thirty years ago with Super Mario Bros., a strange, gritty, and slightly surrealistic take on the plumber brothers Mario and Luigi as they traveled from New York City to the Mushroom Kingdom. While the film is not quite as bad as its reputation suggests, its failure pushed Nintendo to be significantly more cautious regarding its IP, allowing them to maintain an iron grip on the rights to these video game characters for decades. Until now, that is.

If Super Mario Bros. was a strange vision of what this video game world would look like in 1993, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the polar opposite: a colorful adventure brimming with references, a joyous celebration of this franchise’s and early Nintendo’s history, and one of the best kids films in recent years.

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The Super Mario Bros. Movie introduces us to Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day), two siblings in Brooklyn trying to establish their own plumbing business. Despite the fact that their family and others do not believe in the brothers, they remain hopeful about their enterprise, believing that if they have each other, everything would be OK. When a plumbing mishap threatens to flood Brooklyn, the brothers take to the sewers to try to plug the leak and build a reputation for themselves. Instead, Mario and Luigi are separated in the Mushroom Kingdom during a terrible moment for the odd region.

Bowser (Jack Black) has obtained a Super Star, which grants him invincibility, and he intends to use this new ability to travel to the Mushroom Kingdom and propose to Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), so the two may rule the kingdoms together. Mario encounters Peach, who is ready to fight back against Bowser, with the support of a brave Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), as Mario strives to find his brother, who has gotten trapped in Bowser’s grip.

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The Super Mario Bros Trailer

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is brimming with affection for this franchise that many of us have grown up with from the start. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is directed by Aaron Horvath, who co-directed 2018’s Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and wrote The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is, obviously, a feature-length advertising for Nintendo as a company. Jelenic, Horvath, and Vogel, on the other hand, make this feel more like a labor of love, as they’ve been handed the keys to the (Mushroom) kingdom and are free to go all-in on what any fan would want to see in a film like this. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is similar in many respects to Wreck-It Ralph and the joy that came from seeing these characters on film.

It’s also impressive how much The Super Mario Bros. Movie fits into this narrative, from incorporating the 1984 video game Wrecking Crew into Mario’s story, referencing nearly every Mario game since the character’s inception, and even bringing the entire Donkey Kong crew into the mix (including the brilliant choice of having Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong’s voice) without feeling shoehorned in. It’s difficult to envision a film attempting to pack as much into The Super Mario Bros. Movie as this one does without seeming overstuffed, while still giving the plot due in a way that isn’t just a reference-fest. Vogel is forced to juggle an absurd number of aspects here, and yet he manages to bring all of them together in a pleasing way.

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A great voice cast that is a wonderful fit for these legendary characters also helps to bring this universe to life. Sorry to disappoint, but Pratt is a fantastic option for Mario, getting just the appropriate amount of intonation without sounding like a compilation of the character’s iconic quips. Charlie Day is also a wonderful option for Mario’s timid brother, Luigi, although the character is tragically underutilized, especially after being taken by Bowser early on. The same can be said for Keegan-Michael Key’s Toad, who is along for the ride but seldom contributes anything to the proceedings.

Seth Rogen is also fantastic as Donkey Kong, since he’s portrayed as “what if Donkey Kong sounded exactly like Seth Rogen, including his laugh?” The true star here, though, is Jack Black as Bowser. His predilection for the extravagant makes him an ideal option for the role. He can be large and menacing, yet he can also sing love songs to Peach without appearing out of character. To be true, these characters don’t have much subtlety, but Black’s acting elevates Bowser above just a villain to be defeated.

As you can tell, I’m a major admirer of Mario and these characters, and playing these games is one of my first memories. I grew up with Mario and Nintendo, as have many other people over the previous few decades, and for fans, this seems like the film they hoped the 1993 film had been. It’s fantastic to see Illumination hit this out of the park, because it appears that if this film fails, Nintendo may have to wait another 30 years before attempting another feature. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a joyous celebration of Mario’s history, demonstrating just how much there is to discover in these video game worlds. I smiled for 100 minutes straight while watching The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

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But what about the viewers who didn’t grow up with Mario and aren’t already predisposed to fall in love with this world? For the uninitiated, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a touch weak on storyline and character development, but it makes up for it with colorful, lively worlds, surprisingly great humor, and charm that surpasses Illumination’s other flicks. But, given the source material, it’s amazing how much plot and character The Super Mario Bros. Movie can deliver, and while this experience might not be ideal for those who aren’t already familiar with this character, the humor and vibrant worlds should be enough to make this an enjoyable experience.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie isn’t flawless, but as a kid who grew up watching The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! and Super Mario Bros., hoping that they’d one day get this character right in a different media, this is a film that seems like a dream come true. The Super Mario Bros. Movie captures the essence of the games, the rich history, and the enormous possibilities that these games have given for decades, all in one of the most enjoyable animated films in years, with a staff that clearly loves these characters and this universe.