|Synopsis||Two brothers from Brooklyn fall into a magical fantasy realm by accident and find themselves caught in a larger conflict between the peaceful Mushroom Kingdom and the evil Bowser.|
|Length||1 hour, 32 minutes|
|Release Date||April 5, 2023|
|Distribution||Universal Pictures, Peacock (VOD)|
|Directing||Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic|
|Composition||Brian Tyler, Koji Kondo|
|Starring||Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Sebastian Maniscalco, Charles Martinet, Kevin Michael Richardson|
The idea of a Super Mario Bros. movie has long been the rumored talk of Hollywood since the strange live-action Mario Brothers movie was released in 1993. Nintendo was briefly rumored to be developing an animated movie in 2014 alongside Amy Pascal and Avi Arad at Sony Pictures, but that project didn’t come to fruition. Then in 2018, production of an animated adaptation began in earnest at Universal Pictures, coinciding with the plans to open a Super Mario Bros. theme park at Universal Studios in February 2023.
The final film will finally escape into theaters this Easter weekend, helmed by Teen Titans Go! creators Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic and with Chris Pratt leading as the voice of Mario, coming from the animation studio responsible for Minions.
Violence/Scary Images: Child-friendly action violence. Characters brawl and fight. One character is scratched in the face by a cat. No blood or gore is depicted but characters repeatedly threaten to kill one another.
Language/Crude Humor: Limited to none.
Drug/Alcohol References: None.
Sexual Content: None.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Content: The film features hostage situations, though the torture is played for comedic effect.
Positive Content: Themes of brotherhood and bravery.
The idea of a Super Mario Bros. Movie is both a fascinating and dull concept, both because it is a film existing in one of the largest multi-media franchises of the past four decades, and also because the manicured and uncomplicated way that the Nintendo Corporation manages its brands functionally means that any movie that escapes its grasp is going to be safe and appealing to mainstream sensibilities. It won’t be as bizarre or fascinating as the Bob Hoskins Mario Brothers movie.
I already knew what I was getting when it was announced that the movie was being produced by Illumination, the studio that makes the Despicable Me, Minions, Sing, and The Lorax movies—something safe, full of pop culture references, with huge well-known movie stars cashing in for voice actor performances, and mostly lined with the kind of fall-down-go-boom slapstick that is specifically amusing to small children.
And that is more or less what The Super Mario Bros. Movie ends up being. It is far from being a terrible movie, and apart from some concessions to the current-year—such as a girlbossified Princess Peach and a damsel-in-distress Luigi—it is a mostly unblemished version of the characters we see in the video games.
The characters and story should be familiar. Two brothers living in Brooklyn are trying to make a name for themselves with their own plumbing business when they stumble upon an abandoned pipe deep beneath the streets that whisks them away to another dimension filled with strange Mushroom people.
As Mario discovers, his brother has unintentionally fallen into the hands of the evil Bowser, a conqueror who wants to marry the Princess of the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario and Peach set out on a quest to seek the assistance of the neighboring Kong kingdom, a monkey civilization with a standing army that could potentially rival Bowser.
The story is very much lifted wholesale from previous similar stories like The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland; narratives of normal working-class people who are carried away into strange illogical fantasy worlds where they are called to save the realm from a greater threat.
However, originality is hardly the intention of the film. The Super Mario Bros. Movie has one objective—to prove to the Nintendo Corporation that its brands can survive being adapted into popular media without being chewed up and embarrassed, as previous attempts have shown.
That the company chose to do this in the form of the most financially successful medium for popular children’s entertainment isn’t surprising. Much like Pokemon: Detective Pikachu or the Sonic films, this film succeeds at what it sets out to do—and kids are going to love it, even if their parents eye-roll at the bad humor and slapstick.
I don’t want to say I shouldn’t expect more of a film like The Super Mario Bros. Movie—as this movie met its objectives and is based on a video game designed specifically to appeal to young children. As something like The LEGO Movie shows though, there is always room for good storytelling and meaningful ideas behind them. Dreamworks figured this out with Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon over a decade ago.
Most of the film’s lukewarmness just comes down to the overall lack of a cohesive story arc. The film makes pretenses of being about the value of brotherhood, loyalty, and learning to be brave, but the story that surrounds these themes doesn’t award Mario and Luigi much progression or growth. As a result, the film we do get mostly feels like a series of cozy homages to Donkey Kong and Mariokart rather than Dorothy learning the value of her home and overcoming her fears. It’s mostly pretense and lacks the core character growth that makes great animated movies stick.
I enjoyed watching The Super Mario Bros. Movie because it’s a nice shot of nostalgia into the arm coming in a comfortable and visually engaging animated comedy, and served as a nice reminder of my adolescent days in Junior High when I’d come home from school to play Super Mario Sunshine—but to call it anything more than a film that aimed low and hit its target would be overstating what it accomplishes.
+ Beautifully animated
+ Breezy story
+ Nostalgic adaptation of the games
- Somewhat lukewarm story execution
- Safe presentation
- Overreliant on infant humor
The Bottom Line
The Super Mario Bros. Movie will likely be enjoyable for fans of the games and young children alike, but doesn't strive for anything beyond the safe and provable.
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