Released: 7 April 2023
Director: Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $100 million
Stars: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Charlie Day, Seth Rogen, and Keegan-Michael Key
Struggling plumber brothers Mario (Pratt) and Luigi (Day) are sucked into the magical Mushroom Kingdom, where Luigi is captured by the nefarious King of the Koopas, Bowser (Black). To rescue him, Mario must embark on a quest with Princess Peach (Joy), whose people are threatened by Bowser’s perverted designs for her.
It didn’t take long for Nintendo’s portly plumber Mario to become a mainstream icon; there was a time when Mario’s popularity eclipsed even Mickey Mouse so it wasn’t all that surprising to see Super Mario Bros, expand into a multimedia franchise. However, while the plumber duo may have seen some success in cartoons and comics, they didn’t exactly take the world by storm when they made the jump to the silver screen. Super Mario Bros. (Morton and Jankel, 1993) wasn’t just a critical and commercial flop, it was derided by both its cast and crew, and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto was so disappointed by the film that Nintendo largely shied away from feature-film adaptations. Miyamoto’s position softened decades later when he believed such films had the potential to grow Nintendo’s brands and we got our first hint that a new Super Mario Bros. movie was on the cards following the November 2014 hack of Sony Pictures. After partnering with Illumination, whose animated ventures and proven critically and commercially popular, production on an all-CGI Mario movie was officially announced in November 2017. The production would push Illumination’s techniques to new heights and the filmmakers specifically aimed to make the film both cartoony and somewhat realistic so that the dangers would be taken seriously, when appropriate. Sadly, the film attracted toxic, unnecessary criticism after Chris Pratt landed the Mario role over long-term Mario voice actor Charles Martinet, though Martinet did cameo in the film and the filmmaker’s defended their decision as it tied into their desire to craft an origin story for the titular brothers. Although The Super Mario Bros. Movie has currently grossed over $445.3 million at the box office, the critical reaction has been mixed: some praised the film’s carefree presentation and narrative, the colourful visuals, and some of the performances, but others couldn’t get past their bias against Chris Pratt and criticised the simple plot and influx of fan pandering. Still, as of this writing, all involved have expressed interest in producing sequels and potential spin-offs
Unlike the vast majority of audiences, I actually didn’t mind the first Super Mario Bros. movie; sure, it had barely anything to do with the source material but adaptation is all about change and reconfiguring media into new forms. Plus, videogame adaptations weren’t exactly commonplace back then and the medium wasn’t exactly well renowned at the time, so it made sense to try and alter the admittedly bizarre source material into something a little more accessible and mainstream. Finally, I thought it was a perfectly fun action/adventure for kids, and the whole family, with some enjoyable performances and a great visual style, but it can’t be denied that the poor reception to the film pretty much soured Nintendo on ever trying something like that again. Luckily, Mario and their other characters lived on in animated ventures and comic books but Nintendo has such a rich and diverse library of characters that it’s a shame we don’t see more feature films based on their properties; I’m still waiting for a Lord of the Rings (Jackson, 2001 to 2003) or Willow (Howard, 1988) inspired outing for the Legend of Zelda series (Various, 1986 to present) and an epic sci-fi/action film based on the Metroid games (ibid, 1986 to present). So, yes, I was very excited to hear that Nintendo were finally getting back in the cinema industry and teaming up with Illumination for an all-CGI Super Mario Bros. movie. Illumination have done some really fun films in their time and seemed like a perfect fit for the franchise, and going all CGI just makes so much more sense than doing a live-action film or even a hybrid as then there are far less restrictions on what the filmmakers can do and the gap between the source material and the movie screen is suitably shortened as the mediums are much easier to compare.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie once again has the titular brothers be depicted as blue-collar plumbers operating out of Brooklyn, New York. Having recently quit the employ of the Wrecking Crew corporation and sunk their entire life savings in building a recognisable, independent brand for themselves, the Marios are struggling to make it on their own; their colourful extended family disapproves of their decision and Mario struggles with the constant belittlement he faces for daring to dream big. In an effort to establish himself and his brother as legitimate, Mario insists that the two try and save the city from being flooded and the two are subsequently separated when they’re sucked through a mysterious pipe while venturing into the sewers. Mario is deposited into the Mushroom Kingdom, a surreal land of fungus, floating blocks, and populated almost exclusively by diminutive mushroom men like Toad (Key). The excitable Toad offers to bring Mario to the kingdom’s benevolent matriarch, Princess Peach, to help him rescue Luigi, who they theorise has almost certainly been captured by Bowser. Awestruck by the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario insists on accompanying Peach on her mission to recruit the King army from the nearby Jungle Kingdom in a bid to defend her lands from Bowser’s forces. However, while she’s excited to meet another human, Peach also questions Mario’s stature and suitability for such a mission and demands that he complete a hazardous obstacle course and get to grips with the various power-ups that are scattered throughout the land. Though Mario struggles with this, a montage is used to show him improving bit by bit and learning the jumping, fighting, and survival skills he’ll need later in the movie; crucially, though, this montage and much of Mario’s character arc is focused on his never-give-up attitude. Even when he fails time and time again or is being pummelled by a physically superior foe, Mario never quits and keeps getting back up; it’s this attitude as much as his love for his brother that pushes him to overcome the various platforming challenges set before him, take life-threatening risks when racing along Rainbow Road, and even find the courage to challenge Donkey Kong (Rogen) to a battle in order to recruit the Kong’s aid.
While Mario lands in the Mushroom Kingdom and embarks on a wacky adventure filled with fun references to the videogames, Luigi is unceremoniously spat out into the dark lands, a nightmarish landscape filled with lava and patrolled by Bowser’s forces. Unlike his bold, daring older brother, Luigi is far more cautious and resorts to running from danger rather than facing it head-on like Mario. In a surprising twist, it’s not Princess Peach who is captured by Bowser and must be rescued; it’s Luigi, who is picked up by a group of Shyguy and summarily trapped in a cage above a lava pit to be sacrificed as tribute to the Koopa King’s would-be bride. Still, despite his terror, Luigi puts up a good effort in resisting Bower’s torture, though he’s left with no choice but to give up his brother’s name when the Koopa King rips at his moustache. It’s interesting that the filmmakers chose to separate the Mario Brothers for the majority of the film; the dynamic between the two is charming and relatable and they absolutely feels like two brothers who love each other and work well together. Luigi does thankfully get some time to shine in the finale, but he doesn’t get to try out any of the power-ups Mario does and is basically a hostage for the entire film. this means that it’s Princess Peach who acts as Mario’s primary partner throughout; sure, Toad is there as well to whip up some goodies and offer his unwavering support, but it’s Peach who teaches Mario about the world and the power-ups and with whom Mario bonds over his relationship with his brother. Princess Peach is depicted as a strong, courageous, and incredible capable matriarch and fighter; she can easily conquer the obstacle course that continuously defeats Mario, makes effective use of her dress and the various power-ups in a fight, and is definitely not a damsel in distress. While I feel like we could’ve seen this and had both Mario and Luigi accompany her on her quest, there focus is still firmly on the brothers’ bond and I definitely think Luigi will have more time to shine in a potential sequel.
Mario and Toad join Princess Peach as she travels (on foot, strangely) across the land to the Jungle Kingdom. Confident that she can sway the Kongs to join her cause after Bowser decimates the Penguin Kingdom and steals the fabled “Super Star”, Peach is initially prepared to travel alone but allows Mario and Toad to accompany her after being impressed by their heart. The Jungle Kingdom sports Aztec-inspired ruins, a life-threatening series of racetracks through the treetops, and is ruled over by Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen), a cantankerous old ape who knows that he commands the greatest army in the land and initially has no interest in offering his aid. However, when he suggests that he’ll be swayed if Mario can defeat his son, Donkey Kong, in a fight, Mario doesn’t hesitate to take the challenge despite having no idea of what’s awaiting him in the arena. A natural showboat and possessing both great strength and an ego to match, Donkey Kong delights in pummelling his outclassed foe and, even when eventually trounced by Mario in his cat form, refuses to openly admit defeat or let go of his grudge against the plumber after he and the other Kongs get to work building special karts for the heroes to use to get the Bowser. However, Mario and Donkey Kong manage to build a mutual respect for each other after Mario goes out of his way to save DK’s life and the burly ape returns the favour, resulting in them fighting side by side against Bowser in the finale. Although its only briefly touched upon, there’s a surprising amount of emotional depth to the grandstanding ape; he’s riled up by the suggestion that all he has to offer is his incredible strength and he and Mario bond over their mutual desire to prove to their fathers that they’re not a joke.
Naturally, the film’s primary antagonist is the half-dragon, half-turtle Koopa King, Bowser. Bowser and his minions (including Koopas, Goombas, Parakoopas, Bullet Bills, Shyguys, and Piranha Plants) travel across the land on a gigantic slab of molten rock and lava and easily lay claim to the Super Star with a minimum of effort. While Kamek’s (Kevin Michael Richardson) magic and aid is of much assistance to Bowser, the Koopa King cuts an intimidating figure all on his own; alongside possessing incredible strength and surprising speed, he’s able to bring entire kingdoms to his knees with his fire breath and is not above leaving his prisoners to dangle over a lava pit or sacrificing them to prove his love to Princess Peach. Indeed, Bowser’s entire motivation for stealing the Super Star was not to harness its power for himself, but to impress Peach and convince her to marry him so that they could conquer all the lands side by side. Though he’s a cruel and merciless ruler, Bowser is deeply insecure; when he learns that Mario is accompanying the princess, he grows increasingly jealous and enraged and he’s in constant need of pep talks from Kamek and his minions to help him find the courage to propose to Peach. Bowser even takes the time to compose a ballad for his beloved “Peaches” and has no desire to destroy her kingdom unnecessarily, though he threatens to do so and kill all of her people if she doesn’t agree to marry him. Although they don’t actually meet until the film’s finale, Bowser’s hatred for Mario is palpable since he views him not as a threat to his power, but a rival for Peach’s affections; he revels in the idea of immolating Luigi just to teach Mario a lesson and orders his troops to attack without mercy to intercept the heroes when they race along Rainbow Road. Here, Mario and the others encounter a particularly stubborn Koopa (Scott Menville) who delivers a decisive blow to the heroes by blowing up the Rainbow Road in his blue shell form, which allows all the Kongs to be captured and sees Mario and DK getting briefly swallowed up by a Maw-Maw before rocketing to Bowser’s domain to interrupt the ceremony at the film’s climax.
When I saw the first full trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, I was a little worried that the film might be trying to do too much: in addition to the main plot, we have a fight between Mario and Donkey Kong, a kart race, and all these other elements being thrown at us but, thankfully, the pace, execution, and balance of these sequences is absolutely spot on. Also, the film is absolutely stuffed to the brim with Easter Eggs, references, and little background details to not just the Super Mario franchise, but other Nintendo properties as well: Mario and Luigi frequent a pizzeria themed after Punch-Out!! (Nintendo R&D3, 1987), Mario plays Kid Icarus (Nintendo R&D1/Tose, 1986) after being upset by his father (Charles Martinet), the heroes pass by a herd of Yoshis on their quest, Diddy, Chunky, and Dixie Kong cameo during the fight between DK and Mario (which also includes various references to Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D1, 1981) and a Jumpman-themed Donkey Kong knock-off is also seen in the Punch-Out Pizzeria), and we even get a flashback showing Baby Mario and Baby Luigi (though, in my opinion, the filmmakers missed a trick by not having Wario be the bully who picks on Baby Luigi). Music and sound effects from the games are also included in the film’s soundtrack to great effect Mario and Luigi star in a hilarious and catchy ad for their plumbing services that sees them adopt comically exaggerated Italian accents, and there are numerous times when the film switches to a side-on perspective to recreate the platforming action of the videogames.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fun-filled action/adventure movie that’s full of visual gags, cartoonish humour, and a surprising amount of heart. The plot is simplicity at its best, but I fail to see how that’s a negative as the Super Mario games have never (or, at least, very rarely) showcased a deeper plot other than “rescue the princess”. Much of the humour comes from Mario’s struggles to adapt to the Mushroom Kingdom; he’s constantly being bashed about by the high-speed pipes, gets pummelled by Peach’s obstacle course, and is far less adept at holding onto his power-ups compared to the princess. Since he hates mushrooms, Mario is reluctant to devour the Super Mushroom but delights in being tall and super strong from its power; unfortunately, he’s so taken by this form that he falls victim to the shrinking Mini Mushroom in his fight with Donkey Kong, though he is able to make use of the cat and raccoon suits to best DK and keep Bowser’s gigantic Banzai Bill from destroying Peach’s castle. DK and Peach also get time to shine with the power-ups, making use of a Fire Flower and Ice Flower, respectively, when the wedding ceremony descends into all-out chaos. Mario’s fight with DK is a notable highlight; though overpowered and outclassed, Mario keeps getting back up and ultimately emerges victorious, leading to the Kongs building custom karts for him, Peach, and Toad. They, and the Kong army, take a shortcut along Rainbow Road to intercept Bowser and, when the Koopas give chase, we’re treated to a brief adaptation of the Mario Kart series (Various, 1992 to present) as characters toss banana peels and Koopa shells, switch to a glider and anti-gravity mode, and fire rockets at each other in a unexpectedly brutal race to the death. We even get a very brief underwater section where Mario and DK are trapped inside a Maw-Maw that, admittedly, is more there for dramatic effect and an obvious fake-out death, but it works to unite these two rivals for the finale. One last aspect I particularly enjoyed and didn’t see coming was the inclusion of the extended Mario family; since most of them delight in putting Mario down, they primarily act as a catalyst to push Mario into trying and fighting harder to prove that he’s not a joke.
Although Mario’s victory over Donkey Kong means the Kongs agree to join Princess Peach’s fight, the ape army is denied the chance to actually fight against Boswer’s forces as they’re left stranded on Rainbow Road or locked up in cages alongside Luigi and Bowser’s other captives. To spare her people, Peach agrees to marry Bowser but this is simply a ruse to get close to him; using an Ice Flower, she’s able to temporarily freeze the Koopa King and free his captives, with Mario swooping in at the last second in his raccoon suit to save Luigi from a gruesome fate. Enraged by the betrayal and defiance, Bowser orders a gigantic Banzai Bill be fired at Peach’s castle; though Mario is able to entice the weapon away, and into a warp pipe, the explosion causes a dimensional vortex that sucks them all into the streets of Brooklyn. There, an incensed Bowser targets Mario relentlessly and briefly sends him running before he’s inspired by his own advertisement and stands alongside his brother and newfound allies to battle Bowser. I was very happy to see Mario and Luigi team up for the finale after spending most of the movie apart; it really reinforced their bond and allowed them to share the spotlight rather than simply having Mario be the one to single-handedly stand against Bowser. Thanks to Princess Peach, the reunited Mario Brothers are able to grab the Super Star, which turns out to actually be a Starman power-up rather than a Power Star; this grants them temporary invincibility and superhuman abilities, allowing them to charge through Bowser’s minions and put a beating on the Koopa King, pummelling him in submission and force-feeding a Mini Mushroom to end his threat. In the aftermath, the city celebrates its heroes, and the Mario Brothers finally earn the respect of their friends and family, however they choose to stay in the Mushroom Kingdom and help rebuild the damage caused by Bowser’s attack.
I had a good feeling about The Super Mario Bros. Movie right from the first announcement; each trailer just got me more excited for it as it really seemed to be a fun-filled, colourful adventure film that did justice to the source material and I still can’t get over the fact that people were more focused on unnecessarily targeting the casting, specifically Chris Pratt, than focusing on how good the film looked. You can count on one hand the number of times that the videogame cast have featured in an adaptation, so I really don’t understand the pushback against Chris Pratt, especially as he was perfectly fine in the role and his dynamic with Charlie Day went a long way to making the Mario Brothers a charismatic and relatable duo. For me, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is probably the best feature-film adaptation of a videogame (and I’m something of an expert in that field); it’s startling faithful to the source material, featuring a bevy of references and Easter Eggs for fans of the games as well as adapting the platforming action of the source material in a fun and visually engaging way. While it’s a shame that the brothers were separated throughout the film, their bond is at the heart of the story and they come together beautifully in the finale, and I loved that Princess Peach was a strong, independent character who could hold her own alongside Mario. Bowser was also a highlight; his comical buffoonery and swooning over Peach didn’t diminish his threat and it was great seeing Mario, Luigi, Toad, peach, and DK unite to stand against him. honestly, you couldn’t really ask for more from a Super Mario Bros. movie; it takes everything that made the games so popular and brings it to life as a thoroughly entertaining animated venture that’s only bolstered by the all-CGI presentation, the ideal format for these characters and their surreal adventures.
Did you enjoy The Super Mario Bros. Movie? How do you feel it compares to the live-action film and Mario’s animated adventures? What did you think to the casting and the performances in the film? Do you agree that going all CGI was the best way to bring the source material to life? What did you think to Princess Peach having a more proactive role and would you like to see Luigi get more of the spotlight in a potential sequel? What Easter Eggs and references did you spot? Which Nintendo franchise would you most like to see get a feature-film adaptation? Whatever you think, leave a comment below or on my social media and be sure to check out my other Super Mario content on my site.
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