By Carter James
“Super Mario Bros.” is a video game franchise that I have a deep love and nostalgia for. I consider myself a lifelong fan, as gaming is an avid passion of mine. When I first heard that there was an animated film in development, I was cautiously excited.
Time and time again, video game adaptations have been infamous for misinterpreting and disrespecting the source material, and “Super Mario Bros.” is a video game that cannot be butchered because of how iconic the franchise is.
My excitement turned into pure worry once I had heard that Nintendo partnered with Illumination to make the film. Illumination is a company I consider to be the worst animated studio in Hollywood. They churn out cheaply animated films that pander to the most juvenile of childhood senses.
As more announcements and trailers were released over the past year, I started to feel optimistic that a decent film could come from the creative time behind the film. The trailers showed restraint for Illumination, as they focused on the story, rather than throwing in random gags and current popular music. How could I not be excited when the trailers suggested that Illumination was serious about making a good film and releasing it on my birthday?
Now having seen “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” have deeply mixed feelings. Undoubtedly, there’s a deep reverence for the games and their respective characters and worlds, but as a film, leaves too much to be desired.
First and foremost, this is one of the best movies Illumination has ever released. This is incredibly safe for Illumination’s standards, as there are no offensively bad gags or annoying bits. It’s obvious that both they and Nintendo knew real effort was required to avoid screwing up.
The result is an airtight family movie that runs for 92 minutes at a brisk pace. So airtight and safe that the film already feels dated despite not being out for a month. It’s almost as if an animated movie template was used and filled in with Nintendo characters. Short runtime with quick pacing, check. Conventional story about proving yourself, check. Animated movie tropes, check check check.
There is a compelling story to be found underneath the rubble but is actively stunted to keep the film in active motion. Mario as a character has an interesting premise but is never given the time to fully develop. This is applicable to the rest of the main characters as well. All the pieces are there to have fully developed story with characters that change, but they swiftly move from set piece to set piece, giving enough characterization to have the bare minimum.
The stacked celebrity cast does a good job with their interpretations of these famous characters. Chris Pratt is solid as a Brooklyn based Mario but is still Chris Pratt with a New York accent. Charlie Day puts in a bit more effort to hide his vocal personality as Luigi.
The actors who steal the show are Jack Black and Anya Taylor Joy as Bowser and Peach respectively. They voice their characters with pure personality and radiate charm, easily giving the best performances.
Huge shout-outs go to Keegan Michael Key as Toad, who is completely unrecognizable, and Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong, who is having pure fun.
Despite the fundamental flaws in the story and structure, the film is as fun as it gets. The reverence for the videogames is deeply felt, as there are references every which way. The world of Mario is respected and uniquely translated into film. The simple concept of a typical “Mario Bros.” game is reinterpreted into something that is feasible and practical for even the most casual of moviegoers.
Just because said concepts have become feasible, it doesn’t mean that the literal sense of the games is lost. The side scrolling format of the original games are beautifully translated in both a technical presentation and storytelling. Each set piece gives an interesting interpretation of the different types of Mario games, ranging from recreations of different games and common levels found within the franchise.
From a technical standpoint, the Mario brothers are well represented. Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath are directors that understand how to immerse you into a world and use animation to display technical craft that brings personality to the artificial cameras. Though I have qualms with the film’s pacing, the quick runtime helps in moving through the fun and versatile set pieces.
The biggest strength and weakness comes from the music. Brian Tyler composes a wonderful score, full of themes and motifs from the games that are perfectly blended into the original music. The soundtrack on the other hand, is an absolute travesty. The most overused and basic needle drops are present throughout the movie, adding to how mind numbingly basic everything else already is. ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ needs to be banned from being used in another movie for at least twenty years.
The “Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a love letter for devoted fans of the franchise, showing the upmost respect for the games. It’s nonstop fun from start to finish, never failing to keep your eyes glued to the screen. In the attempt to make the film as safe as possible, fundamental flaws are revealed, as a well fleshed out story is traded in for instant stimuli. Even with the fun set pieces, cool references, and good performances, there’s much more left to be desired than there should be. 3/5