It’s insane realizing that it’s been over 40 years since Mario Bros. burst onto the arcade scene before eventually taking the world by storm again with the launch of Super Mario Bros. just two years after that.
Let me put my biases up front now. Mario is why I’m a gamer. Mario was my babysitter. Having an NES controller in my hand, and tapping the A button to make Mario jump did the job as far as making me the “good” kid I was. I own most of the Mario games and when I see anybody in any sort of Mario apparel, whether they’re adults or kids alike, it brings a smile to my face. Without Mario, I highly doubt that I become a paid employee in the gaming industry.
That said, The Super Mario Bros. Movie had me smiling from beginning to end. They got it right. From seeing the minion start his kart with the Mario Kart SFX in the background all the way to the end of both post-credits scenes, it was an absolute joy watching this film… and I watched it twice.
I don’t want to delve too far into the plot, but let’s be honest — absolutely none of the Mario games are big on it, including the RPGs, and The Super Mario Bros. Movie is one that’s pretty simple. To people’s surprise, it’s not actually about the Mario Bros. (Chris Pratt and Charlie Day, respectively) saving Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy)–in fact, Princess Peach is actually a large part of what makes the journey through the Mushroom Kingdom even possible.
What makes the film flow is the amount of care put into both the characters and places they’re in. After all, this is a game based on the characters of one of the oldest and most respected franchises in all of gaming. Gamers know who Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad (Keegan Michael Key), Bowser (Jack Black), and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) are. Seeing them gorgeously animated in Dolby Cinema was a treat in its own right, and the care and attention made the experience even more special.
So let’s talk about the actors and their roles individually. As stated, when confusion and laughter ensued when Chris Pratt was announced to be the star of the film. Not only did Miyamoto handpick Pratt, he also did a heck of a job. At no point in the film was he unbelievable, and he was at his absolute best whenever Luigi was on screen. Speaking of Luigi, Charlie Day’s portrayal of him was absolutely fantastic and definitely a highlight in this talented cast. He was really excitable, and during the section in the film where he had to play the scaredy cat, he definitely was that. I think what Pratt and Day were able to do with Mario and Luigi goes beyond what might’ve been “written”.
Taylor-Joy also put up a really impressive performance as Princess Peach. In this film, Peach is far from a damsel in the distress, and Taylor-Joy’s performance gave the princess a certain swagger we haven’t seen since the animated series. Key definitely put in some effort changing his sound as Toad, but again, he was both excitable and a joy to see and hear on screen.
Moving on to Bowser–yeah, Jack Black is going to get his own paragraph. Black is undoubtedly a standout in The Super Mario Bros. Movie both for the performance as Bowser as well as his flex in talent as the Tenacious D and School of Rock rockstar. I won’t spoil it, but Black has an incredibly hilarious couple scenes singing a song while playing his piano. It’s absolutely hysterical and you’ll likely be heading over to Spotify to listen to it after you see the movie.
And then you have the Kong family in Donkey Kong and Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen). Seth Rogen didn’t do much to change his voice for his role as DK, but he didn’t really need to. The majority of his scenes were action scenes and comic relief, and the Seth Rogen laugh remains funny. Cranky Kong, on the other hand, might have had the worst voice in the entire film. I have absolutely nothing against Fred Armisen, who’s extremely talented, but whenever Cranky Kong said anything–it just wasn’t the voice I envisioned and while it’s unfortunate to blame Armisen for this, more effort could’ve been put here to make Cranky a coot.
In my mind, the true highlight of The Super Mario Bros. Movie is its score. It isn’t without its blemishes–I feel like it runs the gauntlet as far as licensed music to put in video game movies. We didn’t need Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero” and after The Last of Us has done wonders with its multiple uses of Aha’s “Take On Me”, it just felt out of sorts in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Weird licensed stuff aside, the rest of the score was tremendous. You’ll hear various versions of the Super Mario Bros. theme, the underground theme, selections from Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart 8, the D.K. Rap — there’s just a lot here, and the vast majority of them are beautifully orchestrated. I would pay an obscene amount to a screening of the film with live music played.
As a whole, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is just a lot of fun, and anybody who’s ever enjoyed a Mario game should enjoy the film. This movie is unapologetically Mario, and I’m glad they went this route. While there could be a lot desired as far as the plot goes, this is something that’s never really been important with the flagship Mario series to begin with. Either way, movies go from point A to point B; you don’t wanna cloud it, and I thought this film did that very gracefully.
Still, we can’t forget that this movie is for kids, and we can’t let our nostalgic expectations cloud too much of our judgment. At the same time, I’m 34 and took my mom and brother to see it when it first came out, and I took my girlfriend to see it during the weekend, and it was a blast every time.