Nintendo and Illumination’s latest film release “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is the most fun in theaters I’ve had all year and an encapsulation of the charm of the Mario universe. But while this movie was a colorful and accurate adaptation of the game, it fails to appeal to film critics, lacking basic storytelling and watering down important plot points.
The 90-minute animated film is one of Illumination’s best movies to date both in visuals and action, and the box office seems to agree. The film is now the highest-grossing animated film worldwide and the number one video game adaptation in box offices. It has become such a successful film that the theme is the first video game song to be inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, and for good reason. It is a love letter to fans. “The Super Mario Bros.” is a commendable slapstick adaptation accompanied by gorgeous high-definition visuals and easter eggs in nearly every scene, portraying a charming story about never giving up in the most entertaining way possible. It’s perfect and funny for all ages, providing plenty of nods for veteran fans and plenty of buildup for newcomers to connect the plot points.
It is the film adaptation we never thought we’d need, and I loved every minute of it. It repurposes the older Mario lore into a much cleaner Brooklyn, filling in the gaps for how and why Mario Jumpman Mario is in the Mushroom Kingdom. This backstory brings together elements across all games, most notably “Mario: Odyssey,” “Super Mario 3D World” and of course “Mario Kart.” Not to mention there are other easter eggs referencing other Nintendo properties, most notably “Punch-Out!” and “Kid Icarus.”
This movie has a special place in my heart, as it got me my job at The Mercury nearly a year and a half ago. However, as a film in its own regard, it might not be as memorable.
Outside an origin story that entirely discredits “Yoshi’s Island,” an important video game in the Mario universe’s lore, and substituting Luigi as the damsel in distress, “The Super Mario Bros.” doesn’t add anything to the franchise. The only thing it has going for it is the fact that it’s fun and loyal to both its general source material and fans.
Outside the animation quality, there’s nothing that separates this film from being a series of cutscenes that could be watched over TikTok. It is an unnecessarily fast-paced plot that values fan service over world-building or character relationships, which could have been saved if they gave the characters just a little more dialogue. The buildup of character depth is sacrificed for jokes in an attempt to keep viewers’ attention and any dialogue outside Bowser, Kamek, Donkey Kong and Cranky Kong feels like it was written by an AI. Oddly enough, it felt like these four had more depth than the core cast. You could call the movie “Paper Mario” for how thin the plot is. There’s no risk outside the bold choice for the final action set, despite the film’s clear passion for the craft of animation.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” barely meets the requirements needed for storytelling, which is entirely overshadowed by action to keep audiences distracted. After the Mario brothers leave Brooklyn, the story is all about getting from point A to point B with little in between.
The movie’s greatest sin, however, is how little they used Koji Kondo and Brian Tyler’s iconic reconstruction of over 130 Mario musical themes across the decades, opting instead for A-Ha’s “Take On Me” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero.” Even worse, they didn’t give credit to Grant Kirkhope for orchestrating the most infamous rap in gaming history, “DK Rap”, which is inexcusable, as Nintendo has pulled this stunt for the second time this year with another beloved property.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” had so much more potential than what was explored in the film, but every setup outside the post-credit scene and the several nods to “Super Mario Galaxy” feel paid off. It was by no means a bad film, and I feel the internet owes Chris Pratt an apology for his voice acting critics. You don’t need to listen to the overly aggressive criticism of Chris Pratt’s voice acting, and don’t let the unbelievably ridiculous audience vs. critic culture war persuade or dissuade you from watching the film. You will leave the theater smiling, as it’s a fun visual treat worth watching, but unfortunately, don’t go in expecting much more.