REVIEW: Just How Super Is ‘The Super Mario Bros. ‘ Movie?

It’s finally here, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: To see Chris Pratt play as Mario.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, and produced by Chris Meledandri and creator of “Super Mario Shigeru Miyamoto.” The movie also is created by Illumination Animation and Universal Pictures, and opened worldwide. The film is rated PG by the MPAA for action and mild violence.

According to the website GamesBeat, Shigeru Miyamoto explained that when Nintendo was working with Universal Parks & Resorts to create the Super Nintendo World attraction, he met with Illumination Animations CEO Chris Meledandri. The two started to discuss plans for a new Super Mario film in 2016 after years of Nintendo’s hesitance. Nintendo had shelved its intellectual properties for film adaptations after the critical and financial failure of the 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros film.

The muddy reputation of video game film adaptations always creates an air of distrust when these kinds of films are announced. When the film was announced in January 2018, online fans were highly skeptical of the choice of it being created by Illumination Animation.

While Illumination Animation films are usually financially successful, they’re mixed or panned by audiences and critics alike, such as their recent outings like “Despicable Me 3..”  The fact that they were in charge of a video game film adaptation with a license as big as Super Mario seemed like a recipe for disaster. The real controversy, however, began the day they announced the voice cast.

In September 2021 during a Nintendo Direct live stream, Shigeru Miyamoto announced the entirety of the voice cast was comprised of Hollywood actors such as Chris Pratt as Mario, Charlie Day as Luigi, Jack Black as Bowser, Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, and Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong. The choices were immediately mocked online, as the concept of these Hollywood actors replacing the game’s voice actors was completely ridiculous, with Pratt as Mario being the most heavily criticized.

Fans also weren’t a fan of the fact that Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario since 1991, was resorted to just a cameo in the movie. Instead he was replaced by big-budgeted Hollywood actor Pratt. This seemed like a slap in the face to Martinet’s legacy Voice actress Tara Strong criticized the choice on her Twitter saying it should’ve been Martinet cast and calling it out as Hollywood’s disregard for professional voice actors.

But despite all the controversy around the film, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has been, predictably, doing very well. Although mixed by critics, Rotten Tomatoes ratings shows that the film has been doing well with audiences. At the time of writing, the film has grossed more than $878.1 million worldwide and it is expected to more than $1 billion soon.

Thaat  not  only makes it so far the highest-grossing film of 2023 but setting box-office records for the highest-grossing video game film adaptation and also the biggest worldwide opening weekend for an animated film.

It’s pretty impressive, but does the movie earn all these records? Well, after watching the movie myself the day after opening night and reminiscing on it for a while, I realized that it could’ve been much worse. It’s overall a cute movie, with some missed potential.

At the beginning of the film, Bowser and his army collects a Super Star from the Ice Kingdom with the goal of it being that Bowser is going to use it to force Peach into marriage or else use it to destroy the Mushroom Kingdom. Meanwhile Mario and Luigi are Italian-American brothers who recently started a plumbing business in Brooklyn despite their father’s disapproval.

After an argument Mario has with his father about the business, the brothers see a massive water leak on the news, and they go underground to the sewers to fix it, only for them to discover a Warp Pipe and get sucked in. The brothers are separated: Mario into Princess Peach’s Mushroom Kingdom and Luigi in the Dark Lands ruled by Bowser. This kicks off the goal for Mario to meet with Peach, who is trying to ally with the Jungle Kingdoms primate army, rescue his brother Luigi, and stop Bowser.

If this plot I’m describing already sounds really simplistic, well, it is. And it doesn’t get any more complex, I’m afraid. The plots in the mainline Super Mario games are about as simplistic as this movie, but in the context of a video game it’s only there to prop up a motivator for the player to progress through the gameplay. But in a film, there needs to be something more here if “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” wants to get away with a basic video game plot.

I was disappointed that the movie introduced a conflict Mario had with his family in the beginning but doesn’t shed a lot of light on it until the very end. The movie focuses more on the adventure rather than any thematic element.

This is where I feel why Illumination Animation leaned very heavily on the animation chops this time around, and this is where the simplistic plot acts more as a vessel for the animation. In my opinion, this is easily the best part about the movie. The character designs in Illuminations style are tastefully done well, and the whole movie is very vibrant with bright colors and a bouncy animated look to the character movement.

The whole film is stringed together with these fast-paced animated sequences that not only serve as a vessel for the comedy but give fun nods to a variety of the games in the series. I can easily say that, at least out of the filmography I’ve seen, this is easily Illumination’s best-looking film and it’s probably the most appealing part of it.

The voice acting is where I found it to be a major mixed bag. Even though I made fun of him at the very beginning, Pratt as Mario was OK. That feeling that Martinet isn’t playing him or Luigi never goes away the whole time, but he does a fine job and it always seemed like he was conscious of how important his role was.

Everyone else, however, ranges in quality of performance. Jack Black as Bowser was easily the most entertaining as not only he because he already has voice-acting experience, but he’s just naturally funny enough to bring cartoon characters to life. Someone at Illumination just knew to give him a musical number where he, as Bowser, sings his love for Peach in an overly dramatic way while playing the piano. It’s glorious, and easily the funniest part of the film.

Charlie Day also does a good job as Luigi, and unlike Pratt he’s doing a Brooklyn accent the whole time that surprisingly doesn’t sound artificial. This, however, is juxtaposed to performances such as Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, who is a great actress, but here she mostly sounds bored while trying to vaguely sound stoic the whole time.

Then there’s Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong, who isn’t playing a character but instead is just playing himself, he even does the signature Rogan laugh about three times in the film, and it’s distracting. I bring this up because the film is, first and foremost, a comedy movie, and performances like these should be a major focus to bring out the humor along with the animation. Half of the time, they do their job really well, but the other half, I just wished someone in the voice booth told the actors to have more fun with their roles and maybe get more creative.

With “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” being as simple and as short as it is, being about 92 minutes, I don’t really have much else to write here other than I think the film mostly delivers on its fun factor. This would make a geat movie for kids or anyone into  who’s into Mario. Good news is that it’s not as bad as the 1993 live-action one in the slightest.

The film is mostly self-aware of it being a simple spring season popcorn film and doesn’t really take itself seriously beyond its simple comedic nature, nor doesn’t have a greater message beyond its plot. So, we got a fairly fun short-ish romp with the Mario name on it.

Maybe that’s all it needed to be, even if I may forget about it in the future, as nothing in the film stuck with me beyond a few gags and Jack Black singing about Princess Peach. I didn’t expect to end up calling a film where Pratt plays as Mario cute, even if cute doesn’t equate to being super.

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