The Super Mario Bros. Movie only needed to do three simple things: look like the videogames, capture the feel of the videogames, and tell a good story. How does it fare on those counts? Well, it definitely looks like the games, and it definitely captures the feel of them. As for the story…it’s passable. Because the source material doesn’t exactly have a whole lot of storytelling depth, it’s perhaps unfair to ding it too badly on that count. If you enjoy the Mario games and the world they create, this film will leave you satisfied. And hey, it’s a lot better than that 1993 Super Mario. Bros movie, so it’s got that going for it.
Mario (Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) are Brooklyn plumbers struggling to get their business off the ground. While trying to avert a major disaster in the sewers, they get sucked into a mysterious green pipe. Mario lands in a mushroom world, where he meets a friendly little guy named Toad (Keegan-Michael Key). Luigi lands in a volcano world and is captured by the evil Bowser (Jack Black). Mario vows to save his sibling, with the help of his new acquaintance Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), whom Bowser wants to force into marriage.
That’s about it in terms of plot. The characters’ rescue attempt puts them in numerous situations that will be familiar to any serious Nintendo fan. Mario ends up in an arena fight with Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen). The group partakes in a kart chase on a rainbow road. There’s a face-off against a Banzai Bill. A minor arc involves Luigi’s fearful nature and how Mario constantly has to protect him. That pays off in a predictable manner, although having him be afraid is faithful to the Luigi’s Haunted Mansion games.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie incorporates elements from the games in creative, funny ways. For example, to prepare for battle against Bowser, Princess Peach makes Mario go through a training course. It’s designed to look like the most massive videogame level ever, with every single one of the hazards incorporated. Anticipating that the film might play like a 92-minute Nintendo commercial is understandable. Thankfully, thought clearly went into making the references feel organic.
Visually, the picture is colorfully animated, faithfully maintaining the style of the games while upgrading it beyond what a Nintendo system can do. Voice acting is strong, too. After the first trailer dropped, negative online buzz circulated about Pratt’s Mario voice, saying he sounded too much like Linda Belcher from Bob’s Burgers. I couldn’t unhear that after it was pointed out, but when watching the actual film, I forgot within five minutes. He’s fine. The standout is Jack Black. Using his gravelly voice and comedic loudness, the actor earns big laughs as Bowser.
I’m been a Mario Bros. player since the early ‘90s. I saw The Super Mario Bros. Movie with my 14-year-old son, who is a present-day Mario addict. We both enjoyed it. That’s obviously anecdotal. I say it only to suggest that the film has cross-generational appeal. Illumination Entertainment banked on producing something that would amuse parents and children alike. They succeeded. We get a glut of movies based on intellectual property these days because selling a known entity is easy and profitable. It’s enough to make one cynical. As far as such things go, The Super Mario Bros. Movie at least feels created with love for its inspiration. Anyone who also loves Mario and his world will find sufficient fun here.
out of four
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is rated PG for action and mild violence. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.