The Super Mario Bros. Movie is finally out: Is it any good?
Last weekend, I was able to find the time to go to the theater for a non marvel movie. For as much as I love films, I don’t really find myself in theaters anymore if it isn’t for the purpose of catching up with the MCU. However after hearing about the buzz surrounding Nintendo’s first major film release in the form of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, my interest was piqued.
The film’s popularity was something that wasn’t exactly going to be surprising. Mario is one of the single most recognizable faces in our culture, and when Nintendo announced a feature length animated film most of us were probably only wondering what took them so long. As a matter of fact, I believe “what took us so long” is exactly what Nintendo is asking themselves currently, now that the film is well on its way to grossing one billion dollars at the box office. Again, considering the majority of the characters from the IP are deeply ingrained in our popular culture, this kind of insane profit for Nintendo and Illumination is unsurprising.
What did instantly break the internet, however, was the announcement of the film’s cast. In one of Hollywood's weirdest lineups, the 2023 film stars Jack Black, Charlie Day, Keegan-Micheal Key, Anya Taylor-Joy, Seth Rogan, and Chris Pratt as the title character. On one hand, the choice for Mario’s voice being none other than Starlord himself was both bold and a little strange, but I personally was focused on how oddly stacked towards comedy the cast was.
Everyone had their opinions on the voice cast going into the film, but all of that seemed to wash away when reviews began to come out. The internet (or twitter, really) was mostly nervous for how Chris Pratt’s performance would turn out. Many believed he’d ruin the movie and took the cast as a sign that the film would be yet another in a long line of poor video game film adaptations. Fortunately I can say wholeheartedly that not only is Chris Pratt’s Mario not bad, but he gives just as energetic a performance as he would in any other comedic role. The entire cast does a fantastic job, but the standout is Jack Black’s Bowser without question. He brings so much joy to the film, so much to the point that at times it feels like it should have been his movie.
It is also important to mention that this movie is for kids. It was made in partnership with Illumination, and the influence of their flagship Minions franchise is definitely noticeable. Even considering the target audience, it is absolutely worth a viewing especially if you can see it with friends or family. Illumination has developed a style and groove with animation over the last ten years now that feels perfect for a Mario movie. Not only do the visuals look impressive, but in more than a few moments I found myself bewildered at how impressed I was by the visuals in a movie about a plumber who murders evil turtles for a living. Additionally, the soundtrack for this film was stellar. The movie felt upbeat, fast, and eager to entertain and the music served this well.
I believe that my only two criticisms for this movie lay in the plot and the target audience. The latter is an opinion that many people certainly won’t agree with, but it’s something I couldn’t really get over when walking out of the theater. Now, Illumination does a great job at weaving comedy for kids and adults into their movies. As a matter of fact I found the comedy in Minions: The Rise of Gru to be genuinely hilarious at times, and that same style carries over to the Mushroom Kingdom. I think my pain point is that Mario is known to everyone, and this film doesn’t feel, structurally, like it respects its older audiences. There are little easter eggs that can be found like a nod to Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road or the inclusion of Chunky Kong (RIP), but the film leans so heavily towards young audiences that it seems to forget that the majority of those who actually grew up with Mario are in their thirties. I’m not asking for a gritty reboot here, but I think the film dips too far into kids movies with its overly simplified plot when it should’ve stayed more family oriented. The plot itself more or less doesn’t exist, at least not where pacing is concerned.
Overall, the best moments in this movie are when the characters aren’t serving the plot but rather just existing in the world together. I really enjoyed this film, and I think it's an easy one to love, but did find myself wishing they went bolder and made a Mario Kart movie instead. Regardless, if you are looking for a light and fun 90 minute film (and have a couple toddlers with you) this movie delivers in spite of its few flaws.