The fact that it has taken this long to make a modern animated Mario movie is, quite frankly, mindboggling to me. Mario is one of the biggest names in all of gaming, one that is recognized worldwide, even by people who have never picked up a controller in their lives. It has been worth the wait, though, because The Super Mario Bros is pretty much everything I wanted from a Mario movie: it’s bright, cheerful, funny and chock full of references.
The movie opens by bringing everybody up to speed with the origin of the Mario Bros which tends to get forgotten about these days. The brothers are indeed plumbers from Brooklyn, and having just quit their steady job to open up their own business, they decide to film an advert where they both use an exaggerated Italian accent. Why? Well, because they come from an Italian family but because they live in Brooklyn they don’t really have the accent. Oh, and it provides Chris Pratt (Mario) and Charlie Day (Luigi) an excuse to speak normally rather than offending the entirety of Italy.
Anyway, while attempting to fix a catastrophic leak threatening to flood Brooklyn, our heroes accidentally discover and get sucked into a classic Warp Pipe, whereupon poor Luigi gets transported to the Badlands and is quickly captured by Bowser (Jack Black). Meanwhile, Mario winds up in the Mushroom Kingdom where he bumps into Toad who takes him to Princess Peach (Anya Taylor Joy).
The premise is simple: Mario needs to work with Princess Peach to fend off Bowser’s steady advance toward the Mushroom Kingdom, allying with the Kongs along the way, all to save his brother. So, no pressure, yeah?
A lot of critics claimed that The Super Marios Bros. Movie has a paper-thin plot. They are right. This is not a complex movie full of deep themes or layered characters, and that’s okay. Mario games are not known for their plot, and while animated movies like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish can tackle big ideas, I have no issue with a Mario movie keeping things straightforward and simple. It wants to be a good time for kids and adults alike, for both fans and non-fans.
I’m also fine with the lack of explanations for a lot of what is going on. The movie doesn’t try to justify the existence of power-ups or the Mushroom Kingdom, it just asks you to accept them at face value as part of the universe. Your world has plants that get you high? Awesome! Well, we in the Mushroom Kingdom have flowers that let you throw fireballs. Same, same.
Clocking in at 1hr 32m, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fast-paced ride that nevertheless feels like it gives you enough time to just hang out with the characters and establish everyone’s motivations. It packs a lot into that short runtime: dozens of characters, various locations, heaps of word details like floating platforms and loads more. I’m a little unsure if a non-Mario fan will be able to keep up with it all. A sequel, which is going to be inevitable considering the box office numbers, will hopefully be a little more focused now that Illumination has given us a speedrun of all things Mario.
It feels like the first half of the movie focuses more on delivering the laughs, from the slapstick comedy of Mario trying to hone his platforming skills to a cheerfully depressed Lumalee hanging out in Bowser’s dungeon. I was honestly surprised by how many smirks, chuckles and even full-on laughs the film managed to tease out of me, my older brother and my two nieces who are 9 and 14. That’s a solid indication of a good family movie right there. The second half amps up the action, delivering a bunch of cool sequences, though the comedy element is still firmly entrenched in everything.
I have to say, I feel like splitting up Mario and Luigi was a mistake. The time they spend together in Brooklyn before being sucked into another world is excellent because their dynamic is so much fun and their love for each other shines through. By splitting them up, the movie takes that fun dynamic away and it goes from being The Super Mario Bros Movie to just The Mario Movie for a while. With that said, I do think this could be a fun test for a Luigi’s Mansion movie which has been strongly hinted at. The creepy Dry Bones, the crumbling mansion and the foreboding landscape all point heavily towards the spooky vibe of Luigi’s Mansion. Charlie Day does a stellar job of capturing Luigi’s big heart and his timid nature, so I’d be hyped to get a full movie where Day can display Luigi’s courage in the face of the supernatural, especially without his brother backing him up. Honestly, I’d be fine with a pretty straight adaption of Luigi’s Mansion 3.
Alright, so let’s tackle the big issue, shall we? A lot of people, myself included, were not convinced about having Chris Pratt as the voice of Mario, especially after the first trailer. Not because he isn’t a good actor – the man has put out loads of great work, after all. No, the fears stemmed from the fact that the trailers made him sound like…well, like Chris Pratt and not Mario. These concerns were largely unfounded. Sure, he isn’t doing the typical Mario voice but he still puts on a good performance and does occasionally get to yell out some classic lines. He does a good job of playing Mario as brave, devoted to his brother and completely unable to stay down no matter what hits him. He’s tenacious, loyal, funny and determined to chase his dream of a Super Mario Bros business.
Anya Tailor Joy takes on the role of Princess Peach, the leader of the Mushroom. Over the years people have developed an image of Princess Peach being little more than a damsel in distress but while that is certainly true in some cases, in others she’s an ass-kicking machine, appearing as a fully playable character across numerous adventures, including starring in her own games. Here, she gets to teach Mario the ropes on a classic floating obstacle course and has some awesome moments. She does come off as perhaps being a little too perfect, fitting in with the modern trend of trying to portray women as being strong by turning them into flawless people, but Anya does a job of keeping her grounded. The movie also sets up nicely for future Peach stories.
Jack Black is the voice of the monstrous Bowser and not only does he do a superb job of being both funny and threatening, but he also sounds like he’s having a freaking blast in the role. He’s giving it his all and even gets to belt out a few songs where Bowser pines after Princess Peach. Bowser really is a scene-stealer, though it’s a shame we never get much in the way of background for him. Why is he so intent on taking over the kingdoms, and why is he so infatuated with Peach? In that regard, he’s not a hugely compelling villain, but it doesn’t stop him from being a lot of fun.
Of all the actors and actresses, it’s Seth Rogan’s Donkey Kong that feels the weakest. He doesn’t affect any kind of voice for the role, nor does he have any kind of Donkey Kong mannerisms. It’s not a bad performance, but it’s very clearly just Seth Rogan as a monkey.
It feels like I could have paused the movie at almost any point and found at least a couple of references and nods to Mario’s past. Some are more obvious than others, like a hugely entertaining Mario Kart section that takes place on Rainbow Road, and others are far more subtle, like a piece of music that harkens back to a classic adventure. It’s clear that the entire team who worked on the movie has a lot of respect for the franchise and wanted the project to be a love letter to all things Mario, including getting the actual voice of Mario (Charles Martinet) as a cameo.
Is it maybe a little too stuffed with references? Eh, maybe. But it didn’t bother me.
Visually, the movie is gorgeous to look at. Although it does play it safe compared to more adventurous films like Into the Spider-Verse, the animation quality is superb. And damn, is it colourful! I’m really looking forward to seeing this one on my TV with full HDR because the colours should practically explode off of the screen like a crazed terrorist bombing.
While I don’t think The Super Mario Bros. Movie is up in the highest echelons of animated movies, it is still an extremely fun film. It’s a wonderfully animated journey that does justice to Mario and Luigi, setting them both up for future adventures, as well as an expansive Nintendo movieverse. There’s plenty of fun action, a lot of genuinely funny jokes and slapstick, an absurd amount of references and an obvious adoration for not just the Mario Bros, but for their fans as well.