The highest praise I can give The Super Mario Bros. Movie
is that it gave me what I wanted from a film with such a title. It's a bright, colorful homage to the video game icon that has more than enough nods to the character's 40+ year history. Like the Sonic the Hedgehog
films, it knows what the audience has come for. That's more than what you can say about the previous effort to bring Mario to the big screen 30 years ago with the "edgy" live action fiasco.
The movie seems to whip by in a blur, and is told at an even faster pace. And yet, its manic pacing is kind of appropriate for a movie based on these particular games. Yes, there's hints to actual emotion here. Brothers Mario (voice by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are best buds who are trying to watch out for each other, and take on a world that looks down on them. There's even an emotional subplot here for Mario's simian rival Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), who only wants his dad Cranky (Fred Amisen) to be proud of him. But if you go to this movie looking for family drama (even among apes), you'll be disappointed, as it's a mere pit stop, as is just about any other moment of character building. This is mainly designed to appeal to the character's youngest fans, and to make his older ones smile out of recognition more than once. Speaking as someone who's prized possession when I was five was a Donkey Kong cup from which many servings of Kool-Aid were enjoyed, I smiled a lot.
The Mario Bros. are plumbers, as it must be in Nintendo lore. While exploring a sewer, they come upon a certain kind of pipe that warps the two into the Mushroom Kingdom. It's really that simple. The land of the Mushrooms seems peaceful, but is actually being invaded by the King of the Koopas, Bowser (Jack Black, having the time of his life), who only wants to conquer the land so that he can marry its noble ruler, Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). There's been some controversy on the internet about how this movie portrays Peach as much more of a powerful and take charge figure than she is often depicted in the games. I had no such problems Outside of Black's villain role, Joy gives the other best performance here. As for the whole "controversy" regarding Chris Pratt as Mario that has dominated the internet since the casting was announced, he's fine, and never bothered me in the slightest.
The movie never really slows down long enough to explain itself, but if you're really going to this movie for a plot that deserves to be followed, you're probably making a mistake before you even walk in the theater. To me, this felt like a Super Mario
movie through and through. It has the right amount of energy in the visuals and the voice acting, and I often get the sense that the creative team were smiling a lot when they made this. It's a movie made by fans for fans, and that right there should be enough to tell you whether this is for you. It has the same mix of nostalgia and genuine wit as Disney's Wreck-It-Ralph
films, and the directing team of Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
) have found the right giddy tone that the material needs.
Sure, there's plenty to pick at here. Despite being one of the main heroes of the story, Luigi doesn't get to do much, and is disappointingly off camera for most of it. Also given little to do is Keegan-Michael Key as loyal Mushroom Soldier Toad, who is mainly along for the ride the entire time, while not getting to contribute. The movie's soundtrack is also largely made up out of 80s pop songs that sometimes seem a bit out of place. Perhaps they were going for another piece of nostalgia of when Nintendo was truly the talk of the toy world, but it still seems off. When you do consider how much from the games and its world they did get right, these are small gripes for me. Mostly, it's kind of amazing how quick this movie seems to go by when you realize how much of the games they managed to stuff in here without an ounce of bloat.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie
is a delicate balance of nostalgia and manic energy that pulls off the neat trick of appealing to both young and older fans. Those who are not in either group will likely find this tiring, but I can't vouch for them. All I was thinking the entire time is that the ten-year-old version of me who was thrilled to find a Nintendo with Super Mario Bros
. and The Legend of Zelda
under his tree on Christmas Morning of 1987 would have loved this movie, and the 45-year-old me liked it a lot.