Video games and movies have a troubling history that only recently have provided fairly good adaptations. One example is HBO’s The Last Of Us based on Playstation and Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic action shooter. The show has been receiving rave reviews from plenty of critics. Especially having names like Bella Ramsey (of Game of Thrones) and Pedro Pascal (of The Mandalorian).
Still, video game adaptations work best when there’s a narrative already in place with plenty of world-building to base it upon. While the iconic Super Mario Bros. games lean far more into gameplay than the usual “save the princess” storyline, adapting the series is a tall order. Reminder that one such adaptation is the infamous live-action Mario Bros. film from 1993. Because of that, video game adaptations have had far more duds than successes. It’s also why Nintendo has been incredibly hesitant on letting anyone adapt their IPs these days.
Thus, in April of 2023, we get a CG-animated Super Mario Bros. movie, courtesy of Illumination, the folks behind Despicable Me, Sing, The Secret Life of Pets, and of course, the infamous Minions. I’ve never been super big on their movies, but given the infamy of the 1993 film, you can’t blame most of us Mario fans for having reserved thoughts on an animated film. Especially with Chris Pratt being Mario (rather than Charles Martinet, who’s basically THE Mario voice.
So how well does Illumination handle the latest video game movie entry? Surprisingly well, all things considered.
It’s-a Mario Time!
The movie starts out in Brooklyn where the Mario Bros have formed their own plumbing company, complete with a commercial that’s brimming with 80s nostalgia. Unfortunately, the Mario Bros aren’t exactly beloved in their hometown. With barely a job to their name, they try to make ends meet in a hostile and competitive world. Not even their family, filled with Mario and Luigi lookalikes, has their back (except Mario’s mother, who’s proud of her son.
In their biggest job yet, they discover a strange green pipe that suck the brothers in and separate them. With his brother missing, and Bowser ravaging the Mushroom Kingdom, it’s up to Mario to prove himself that he truly is the hero he’s always dreamed of being.
I had cautious optimism before, but seeing this in theaters after years of avoiding it during the pandemic, but I absolutely loved this film. I figured I’d be somewhat entertained since it’s an animated film, but I didn’t expect to be absorbed in the story so much. As simplistic and straightforward as the plot might seem, it absolutely feels like the ultimate Mario movie.
The pacing felt smooth and no one character had too much to themselves. Splitting between Mario, Bowser, and Luigi, each of them had a reasonable amount of screen time. Mario’s focus was, of course, rescuing his brother and helping Princess Peach. Bowser’s was about how he’d marry Peach and rule the Mushroom Kingdom, and Luigi getting kidnapped by Bowser’s minions for Mario to rescue.
The movie has an enormous level of nods to not just Mario’s past, but to Nintendo’s other IPs as well. I won’t spoil every single one of them, but it’s impressive how many there are and it becomes a fun game for Nintendo fans to spot them all. In fact, the only recent Mario reference is a small appearance of Pauline from Mario Odyssey (who was the princess before Peach existed) and Cat Mario from Super Mario 3D World.
Some might say there were too many easter eggs, but I didn’t think there were that many. If any, most of it was within the beginning. The music was a Hollywood Symphony of iconic Mario tunes, which I’m sure even longtime Mario fans will know of. Even a bit of the DK rap got an appearance. Of course, being Illumination, there were inclusions of real world songs such as Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. Like, those songs are great and all, but
I would have preferred Illumination stuck with variations of Mario music throughout.
Another downside, and a slight spoiler here, is that I would have loved to have seen Luigi do more than be a captive. I know Mario’s the star and all, but this is the Super Mario Bros. Luigi is a brother too. If anything, Peach got a bigger role in the story.
Speaking of Peach, I loved her in this role. I was worried they were going to go with the usual damsel in distress plot the Mario games are still known for, but seeing her in a leading role and even being able to use Power-ups as well was incredible to see. I’d love to see her play more roles like this in future Mario Bros. Games.
I see some people saying she’s being a “girlboss” stereotype, but I didn’t see that in the film. I saw a princess protecting her kingdom of Toads and helping Mario on his journey to find his brother. She was very caring of those around him, even to Mario who suddenly appeared in her world.
Overall, I really enjoyed this film. It’s straightforward, but it works. It’s not super preachy, no plotline overstays its welcome, and above all, it feels like the Mario movie we’ve been wanting for decades. It might seem like a re-do of the infamous live-action film from 1993, but if so, it’s miles better than the original film. This film is the real deal.
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Be safe out there, brave adventurers.