There’s been a surprisingly big discussion online surrounding The Super Mario Bros. Movie after critics seemingly felt quite mixed about the project. Nintendo’s first real foray into producing a project based on their IP mixed with Illumination adds a lot of pressure for this film to succeed. Box office-wise the film is set to break records left and right but the question remains if the plumber’s adventure to the Mushroom Kingdom truly translated well into animation after the questionable first attempt in live-action.
What stands out is that the film is visually stunning and the designs are certainly true to the original game franchise; a sign that Nintendo had close control over their work to stay true to the original. Part of me did wish that the minions got a Paper Mario treatment with some unique standouts outside of a Toad wearing a backpack being one of the main characters. The worlds were captivating and it definitely ranks among Illumination’s more creative works, which was something I had some concern about as their overall design work can be quite plain.
The biggest concern for some was the voice work with the film going all-in with the modern “big name actors” casting choices. Yet, I was surprised by Chris Pratt’s overall performance with some great performances here and there. Seth Rogen could’ve put in a bit more work to give Donkey Kong a more familiar voice, as we also just get his signature laugh in this film. He had some great moments but I won’t lie it felt like a missed opportunity given how iconic his voice is in Donkey Kong 64.
Anya Taylor-Joy was okay as Princess Peach, she gave a good performance but it didn’t really stand out either. The true scene-stealers were Jack Black as Bowser and Charlie Day as Luigi. They both perfectly brought the right energy to these characters even if I do wish Luigi, who is cutely named Lu by Mario in this rendition, was given a bigger role in this film but perhaps we get a Luigi’s Mansion spinoff film one day.
As much as I’ll definitely say I had a blast with the film, it does overall feel a bit rushed at parts. It didn’t really have a strong plot pulled together that would build upon each other but rather just wanted to hit some vignettes with loose character motivation to keep it together. Peach wants to protect her people and is willing to give up everything for it. Mario wants to prove to his family that he isn’t dragging his brother down with him, which actually was the best part of the film’s theme.
Bowser has a neat surprise in his overall motivation that is inspired by some of the most recent entries in the Super Mario franchise, though I wished they kept it a secret for a longer period of time. Its overall issue is that it simply tries too much and doesn’t set a clear focus. We spend time with Bowser and find out his motivation, trying to create a dynamic between him and Mario even though they never face each other to build up to an eventual climax. Yet, it would’ve been great to actually have these two compete, he actively takes his brother away adding to one of the main conflicts in the film.
Luigi taking Peach’s role in the story as confirmed in the trailers is a good way to add something new without falling into cliché territory but it all feels rather disconnected. We spend most of the film’s runtime building up to one storyline that is squashed after a fun action sequence. Mario’s main motivation set early on was probably the best jumping-off point they could’ve given the film but it never truly comes together to become its central theme until the last few minutes.
Yet, even with these issues and Illumination’s usual hyper-fixation on including pop songs in sequences (especially with the now-confirmed fantastic Donkey Kong-inspired song having been scrapped), the film has heart. I still got a bit teary-eyed during the final moments. Mario and Luigi make a great pairing, which I didn’t think the film would make me care about for as little screen time they share. There’s heart here and it overshadows its very easter egg showcase, as there are a lot of them.
There are certainly a lot of Easter eggs for long-time Nintendo fans and likely one of the major draws of this film. It knows it is playing to nostalgia in a big way, which is surprisingly more dominant than what Marvel has been accused of throughout the years. It wouldn’t be too surprised if they use this film as a jumping-off point for spinoffs moving forward and there’s a chance that they could get some of these elements together in a sequel.
Best case, they start taking some more inspiration from Paper Mario or the Mario & Luigi games, as those had some really great storytelling. The first film had to ease viewers into this world but now there’s no stopping them from going all-in. Introduce a new villain in the form of Cackletta and the super memorable Fawful. Introduce viewers to Koopa’s normal living environments that are more than just those minions we witnessed in the film. Otherwise, these films might just end up as more of the same.
Either way, the film is a blast through and through. Yes, it falls into some usual pitfalls but there’s still a lot of fun to have. The jokes land when they land. We have a surprisingly strong cast here that brings it together. Peaches will be trapped in my head for all eternity. The heart that this film has overshadows most of its issues, and while it doesn’t offer too much depth in its story, it still does what it needs to do to keep you engaged throughout. It’s definitely worth a watch and is the Mario film we wished the 1993 film was.