Sunday, March 3, 2024


THE STORY – With help from Princess Peach, Mario gets ready to square off against the all-powerful Bowser to stop his plans from conquering the world.

THE CAST – Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Sebastian Maniscalco, Charles Martinet & Kevin Michael Richardson

THE TEAM – Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic (Directors) & Matthew Fogel (Writer)

Growing up in the early nineties, I desperately wanted a Super Nintendo. Mario was just about as ubiquitous as it gets, but my family opted for a PlayStation instead. I vividly remember heading over to my friend’s house to play “Super Mario Bros. 2” for hours, only stopping to pop in “The Sandlot” on VHS. Decades later, I became only a casual gamer but bought a Nintendo Switch to fulfill all my Mario dreams with my kids. There is something about this nonsensical world and the high-voiced mustachioed plumber that doesn’t get old and still manages to capture the adoration of new generations of gamers. “Teen Titans Go! To The Movies” directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has forty years of history and passion to live up to, and it somehow lives up to those monumental expectations. It’s everything you could want in a Mario movie.

Adapting the Mario games into a feature film is a challenge, mainly because the games don’t exactly feature deep narratives. The appeal of the Super Mario games has always been the gameplay, so finding a cohesive plot that can sustain a 90-minute runtime without a controller is no easy task. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” keeps its story simple. The evil Bowser (Jack Black) wants to marry Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), and he’ll destroy the world if she refuses him. Meanwhile, aspiring business owner plumbers Mario and his brother Luigi (Chris Pratt and Charlie Day, respectively) are transported from Brooklyn, New York, into the Mushroom Kingdom via. a green pipe while working on a job, stumbling into this world at the brink of war. Mario teams up with Peach to save the kingdom and all the Toad inhabitants (voiced by Keegan Michael-Key) by eliciting the help of the Jungle Kingdom (given a face and voice through Seth Rogen’s take on Donkey Kong). And that’s it. The story is pretty much that simple. Anyone looking for a more complex or compelling story may be left disappointed. There are detours along the way, like Luigi being captured by Bowser and Mario courting the Kongs to fight alongside them, but “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” doesn’t have any other lofty ambitions on its mind other than faithfully re-creating the characters, world, and gameplay from the videogame into a feature film.

Simple as the plot may be, Illumination’s animation style perfectly fits the world of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” It’s cute in a way that’s not cloying, with every landscape mesmerizing and enticing, rich in detail, and packed with Easter eggs for older fans of the videogame. The characters are slightly redesigned, but not in any way that feels like a betrayal of the look we all know and love. Most surprisingly, the scrutinized voicework delivers. Despite the uproar about Chris Pratt’s casting as Mario (although he displayed good voice work in “The Lego Movie“), his voice becomes acceptable after about thirty seconds. It’s certainly different from the games. A cameo from Charles Martinet, Mario’s original voice, acknowledges that difference early on. Keeping Martinet’s legendary thick Italian accented performance might not have been sustainable throughout a 90-minute film. The movie also finds a clever way to acknowledge this early on as Mario and Luigi develop a commercial for their Brooklyn Plumbing business using Italian accents to draw prospective customers in despite their vastly different sounding voices. Pratt, along with the other performers, all fit the characters of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” well, making them even more lovable than before, with Jack Black’s fiery, musically infused performance as Bowser shining as bright as the game’s Super Star.

Now you may be wondering why I’m being so lenient towards “The Super Mario Bros. Movie?” Because there’s no doubt this film is aimed at a younger demographic. With the cute animation style, simple plot, and needle drops that are a bit on the nose (Beastie Boy’s “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” being an obvious example), kids the world over will fall head over heels for “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” and rightfully so. There’s something to be said for crafting a film to win over a new generation to the characters adults have already loved for decades. Adults will likely get a light chuckle at some hidden references to the old games, making this a nice, warm dive into childhood nostalgia. Brian Tyler’s score effectively incorporates the classic Koji Kondo themes in both expected and unexpected moments, giving bursts of recognizable sounds that keep the action moving through some exciting set pieces, including references to “Super Smash Bros.” and “Mario Kart.”

The kingdoms, the characters, and the music all transfer solidly from the console to the movie theater with “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” While the movie keeps things light and fun throughout, it never delves into the deep, satisfying emotions of the best Pixar films. However, it conjures a different sort of magic in the process. For longtime Mario fans, families, and newcomers to the franchise, there’s something for everyone in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” as long as you’re willing to accept the target demographic for the movie and take it on its own terms. Here’s hoping this is the start of a new series for Illumination.

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howat
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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