REVIEW: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

A Film by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic

Fans have been waiting for a LONG time for some sort of proper Super Mario Bros. theatrical movie. Sure, children of the early 1990s were “blessed” with the utterly bizarre 1993 Bob Hoskins & Jon Leguizamo dystopian Mario film, but I think many would agree that that was barely representative of the franchise as a whole. A combination of the critical failure and deviation from the source material caused Nintendo to back completely away from Hollywood for almost three decades. The 90s also consistently had some sort of Mario cartoon on television at all times, but they were very hit or miss in terms of quality. Perhaps due to the recent success of the Sonic the Hedgehog Film franchise, Nintendo decided to get back in the game once again with this new Super Mario Bros. film from illumination studios. Apparently both Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto and Illumination’s Chris Meledandri wanted this film to be perfect and worked together to make it so, a breath of fresh air considering the 1993 film excluded Nintendo almost entirely.

“Mario the plumber is no stranger to the big and small screen, but this year everyone’s favorite Jumpman is getting his biggest movie yet with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. All of Nintendo’s most beloved characters are on display, with a star-studded voice cast that includes Chris Pratt as Mario, Charlie Day as Luigi, Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, Jack Black as Bowser, and Keegan-Michael Key as Toad. With all that good news, we can’t help but say “Wahoo!””

Illumination Productions is generally not one of the studios that I keep up with too much, but has garnered TONS of success with a few of their top franchises. Unless I am mistaken, Despicable Me is the highest grossing animated franchise in history. I just got kind of burnt out on everyone’s grandparents posting nonsensical Minions-related memes on Facebook, that it kind of soured me on them despite loving the first Despicable Me film. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a great way for the company to branch out a bit, and hopefully we can get a whole series of Nintendo films. As of today, this film has made 377 million dollars worldwide in four days, which goes to show that Illumination has tapped into the code on how to make a children’s film into a crazy blockbuster event. Helmed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is perhaps the truest to source material of any video game film yet, luckily moving away from the typical cartoon character meets live action actors thing the same studio did in Hop, which was also used in the Sonic series.

I am happy to report that yes, this movie was actually quite fun and a suitable nostalgia trip for people my age as well as a fantastic introduction to the characters for young children that may not have the decades worth of experience with the franchise. It’s a simple film that is full of laughs as well as a little bit of drama and plenty of Easter eggs for us old fogies to enjoy. I won’t go into too much spoiler territory here, but there was one scene in particular that I was completely flabbergasted by, and that was the use of the theme song to the 1990s Super Mario Brothers super Show within the film. You know, the show that starred Captain Lou Albano of WWF Wrestling fame as Mario? The one that was half live action and half cartoon? They got it in there! I always get annoyed when movies seem to refuse to acknowledge their pasts, such as no Fox X-Men film ever hinting at the iconic 90’s theme song, or both G.I. Joe and Transformers basically trying to distance themselves as far as they could. But here wave have this Mario movie, and it’s like a true fan made it for once.

The film also uses references to pretty much every Mario game you could think of like Mario Kart, the original arcade Mario game, Donkey Kong, and even Super Smash Bros. Granted, Mario has been in a billion different games where he had seemingly every job known to man, but the production staff of this film did great care to showcase nearly every facet of the franchise is long storied history.

I know that going into this film, the million pound elephant in the room was the somewhat odd “campaign” and manufactured outrage spiral that a number of fans had towards the casting of Chris Pratt as Mario rather than the longtime franchise voice actor Charles Martinet. Apparently, Martinet himself, was weary of playing Mario in the movie due to the fact that the nature of his contributions to the franchise only really work in sound clips and not full dialogue (“It’s a Me,” “Let’s a Go,” and “Mamma Mia”) , and a sound test he did was not really something anyone wanted to move forward with. That isn’t to say that Martinet was shunned entirely, as he plays not one, but two roles in the film. Firstly, he voices a restaurant owner named Giuseppe who we see playing an arcade game called “Jump Man”, a reference to Mario’s original name. Then, his main role in the film is of Mario’s father, a very fitting role for sure!

Personally, I think people need to chill on Chris Pratt. You would think that Illumination had somehow resurrected Adolf Hitler and cast him as Mario for the over-the-top tantrum-like way people were acting online about the production of this film. I feel that people were blinded by their own personal dislike for the actor’s politics and reports that he’s a crappy dude in real life and pretending to advocate for a voice actor that is already in the film in another role. Most of these people seemingly wanted Mario to have a full Italian accent or some such (probably doing the Italian hand gesture™ and saying “Gabagool” in a stereotypical way as well), as if he was fresh off the boat from Sicily, and anything else was blasphemy apparently. When it’s all said and done, the voice acting was actually pretty decent and almost every A-lister member of the voice acting cast was great. I’m personally not the biggest fan of Chris Pratt, the person, but Chris Pratt the actor always does a good job. I’m also sure these same people like plenty of problematic artists, but this one is a meme born from the internet, so chronically online folks won’t let it go.

You can tell that Jack Black loved every second of his time in this film, chewing the digital scenery with his role as King Bowser Koopa. He even goes as far as singing ridiculous love songs about Princess Peach who he is obsessively attracted to for whatever reason. It’s very much like the weird obsession Dark Helmet had for Princess Vespa in Spaceballs, and I’m here for it! Seth Rogen lends his voice to Donkey Kong which was injected with much more character than he has ever been given in any game and comes across as your typical boneheaded jock that ends up being likeable simply due to his near absent-mindedness. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Princess Peach to perfection, and the cast is rounded out with Charlie Day as Luigi, and Keegan Michael Key as Toad. Honestly, I think the only cast member that I was not super thrilled with was Fred Armisen’s Cranky Kong, which is not necessarily on Fred Armisen, it was just the character itself was kind of realized in an annoying way.

With this being a children’s film, the movie moves along at a pretty brisk pace, and someone gets to the end pretty quickly. I’m not sure I’d want the movie to be much longer, but it I did sometimes wish that there was a little more in it, however with me being a forty-year-old man I have different needs as a movie watcher than a child would. The good news is that they obviously have plans to do a sequel and my son and I both will be eagerly awaiting the release of that. Speaking of this being a children’s film, I saw a couple of reviews that baffled me with the lead up to this film. A couple of tech websites specifically wanted to point out that they were upset that the movie was not “more mature”. I don’t want to spend part of my review criticizing other reviews but let’s get it straight. This is a Mario Bros. movie, Mario has never been dark or brooding in any way (unless you think Luigi’s Mansion is scary). Expecting such a thing out of it is utterly ridiculous and if you were a grown adult going into what is ostensibly a children’s on wanting to watch The Sopranos you really need to knock your expectations down about twelve levels.

This was something that always drove me crazy when I worked for a video game review website in the past, in that adults would end up having to review children’s video games and give them low scores based on there not being depth or something. For that kind of situation, it’s like, “dude this game is meant for five-year-olds what are you doing?” Luckily, Mario is not mutually exclusive for the enjoyment of one age group so pretty much anyone can enjoy this no matter how old you are. I mean, that’s if they aren’t a twisted husk of pure cynicism, and if that’s the case, why watch this anyway? Be thankful there weren’t forty-five song and dance numbers in it like some recent Dreamworks films.

I will now get off my soapbox, but this is just a trend I noticed online.

I would not consider The Super Mario Bros. Movie a perfect video game film, but as a Super Mario Bros. movie, it’s far better than I expected and perhaps the truest love letter to the franchise anyone could have made. The story is great, inside jokes and Easter eggs are numerous, and it tells a pure message about determination and never giving up rather than trying to pander in its messaging. The voice acting was fine, yes even Chris Pratt did a good job, and the story leaves it open for more – we haven’t even seen any of Bowser’s kids or a real look at Yoshi yet, so I can’t wait! Overall, this movie was a big surprise for me, and lived up to every expectation I could have had for the franchise. As stated before, Illumination is doing something right and they deserve all the kudos they get from this!

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