The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) is Nintendo’s first venture back into the movie game (pun-intended) in 3 decades. Following the critical and commercial flop of the original, live-action 1993 Super Mario Bros. Nintendo swore off the film industry for good. But, of course, the allure of turning the constantly expanding Super Mario video game franchise into a movie franchise – with the sweet sweet cash they can rip from the hands of nostalgic nerds and parents who are tired of rewatching Encanto with their kids every day – was just too strong for Nintendo to stay away. So here we are with a new, animated, big budget Super Mario Bros. movie featuring an all-star voice cast.
Hollywood’s most alright Chris, Chris Pratt voices the titular Super Mario flanked by Charlie Day as Brother Luigi. Anya Taylor Joy plays feminist icon Princess Peach and comedy stars like Seth Rogen, Keegan Michael Key, and Jack Black lend their voice talents to fan favorite characters Donkey Kong, Toad, and the villainous Bowser respectively.
Kids likely don’t care about the big names behind the voice acting they hear on screen, and I’m not sure how many young kids care about references to games like Luigi’s Mansion or Super Mario Odyssey, so it feels like The Super Mario Bros. Movie is doing a little more than most animated kids’ films to try and keep adults entertained, to mixed results. The movie’s reviews have been fairly split to this point. The Super Mario Bros. Movie has a 54% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes at time of writing.
Is The Super Mario Bros. Movie a loving and moving tribute to the source material or is it never-ending fan service and a hunt for easter eggs in a boringly transparent Nintendo money grab? Well, as is often the case, the answer is somewhere in the middle. The Super Mario Bros. Movie has some truly delightful moments of nostalgia and wonder in it. Directors Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath have a genuine love for the characters and the games that shines through on the big screen. Watching an insane Mario Kart race on Rainbow Road made me smile and had the little children packing my theater giggling with joy. But there’s just not enough substance here, beyond the nods to fans, to make the Super Mario Bros. Movie truly stand out as a good, memorable film. Especially not when a movie like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish just saved children’s cinema a few months ago.
The Super Mario Bros Movie (2023) Trailer & Synopsis
Failing Brooklyn plumbers Mario and his brother Luigi travel through a mysterious pipe into the Mushroom Kingdom where Mario finds himself tangled up in a plot to help Princess Peach defeat the nefarious Bowser and stop Bowser’s army of Koopas from using the super star to take over the world.
Where the Super Mario Bros. Movie shines is creating a world that feels true to the games. Even though I’m not a Nintendo stan, and haven’t owned a Nintendo console since the OG Wii, I feel like everyone knows and loves at least one of the Mario games. And whatever that game is, you’re going to see a reference from it that makes you feel good. The animation is gorgeous. The Mushroom Kingdom feels as familiar and beautiful as fans would want it to. The film also gives some fun nods to things like blowing into Nintendo 64 cartridges and just general Mario fandom that all really worked for me.
I also liked the, apparently controversial, choice to tone down Chris Pratt’s Mario voice for this movie instead of making him a bad caricature of an Italian accent. While, of course, you get your occasional “it’s a me!”, “let’s a go!”, and “mama mia!” from Mario and Luigi, Chris Pratt and Charlie Day never out stay their welcome with the accents. If you’re a Chris Pratt hater, which I am not, then your mileage may vary but I didn’t mind his voice.
The other characters in the film get plenty of time to shine in Super Mario Bros. Jack Black as Bowser is especially funny and given a decent amount of screentime. Anya Taylor Joy, who I have gushed about before, was a perfect choice for Princess Peach. As was Keegan Michael Key playing Toad. Donkey Kong makes the most of what he’s given and you can see the set up for future spin-off movies a mile away. And I’m okay with that. But my favorite character in the film is Lumalee, a nihilistic Luma held prisoner by Bowser who can’t wait for the sweet embrace of death. That character rules. Made me laugh every single time she spoke.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie has all the mild violence and cartoon silliness of a video game too. Mario and Luigi both get their asses kicked a couple times in this movie in pretty entertaining fashion. This movie’s adaptation of a Super Smash Bros game felt perfect for a kid’s film and I would like to see them dive more into the characters and action of that game in future movies. Which you know are coming.
Finally, good god it’s refreshing to watch a movie that is only an hour and a half and gets straight to the point. Super Mario Bros wastes no time. Mario and Luigi are 2 dipshit brothers running an independent plumbing business, their dad thinks they’re whack, they get sucked into a magic pipe in Brooklyn, now it’s time save the Mushroom Kingdom. Fun!
As grateful as I am for 90 minute movies to be making a comeback, the story of Super Mario Bros. does suffer for the brevity. The brothers jump into their adventure pretty quickly, but the movie doesn’t have much of a plot or character development to speak of. I don’t think anyone has ever played a Mario video game for the plot, so maybe that choice makes sense. But we’ve seen with other kids’ movies made to cash in on famous brands like The Lego Movie that you can have some depth and a twist in your kids movie. Super Mario Bros. just doesn’t have it.
The other major knock on Super Mario Bros. is that it’s just not that funny. In my jam packed theater, most of the jokes landed with a half-hearted chuckle, if that. There’s a legitimate laugh out loud scene every now and again, mostly from Bowser, but ultimately the script is a pretty big let down. It’s hard to make a truly memorable kids’ film if it’s not legitimately funny. And I think that’ll be what holds back Super Mario Bros. from being a true classic.
Final Thoughts on the Super Mario Bros Movie
Ultimately, I think Super Mario Bros. is a fine movie that largely achieves what it sets out to accomplish. It’s gorgeous animation brings some iconic characters to life on the big screen, and it’s fun (and short) enough that you’ll have a good time if you go see it in theaters. I can confidently recommend buying a ticket and checking it out. But it’s held back by an unfunny script and a paper-thin story that will keep it from being among the truly great kids’ films. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Recommendation: See it in theaters, bring the kids.
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