By: Mark Pereira and Stephanie Klimov (The Madrph)
The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a joint venture between Illumination and Nintendo, was announced back in 2021. Since that time, there have been several trailers, delays, and controversy over voice casting. Regardless, this was a huge undertaking since the cringe-worthy live-action Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993. It’s no secret that Nintendo is protective of their IPs, so the world waited with bated breath to see how this animated film turned out. Fast-forward to April 5th, and The Super Mario Bros. Movie debuted with a 53% critic score from Rotten Tomatoes, contrasting from a whopping 96% audience rating1. Many from the Boss Rush community rushed to the theaters opening day, and we are here to break it down.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an origin story of Mario and his brother, Luigi. The two are trying to make a living off their own humble plumbing business in Brooklyn, much to the dismay of their family and surprise from their former employer. After an unsuccessful first gig, the two venture deep into the city sewage system to make a name for themselves, and they stumble upon a mysterious green pipe. The two are sucked into the pipe and hurtled through a warp space between worlds. Luigi and Mario are separated, and Mario ends up in the Mushroom Kingdom. From there, he meets with Toad and Princess Peach, and they team up to save Luigi and defeat Bowser. They even recruit the Kong army, where Donkey Kong proves to be an invaluable ally.
For those that know little of the franchise from a video game standpoint, Mario’s origins began with 1981 platformer, Donkey Kong. From there, Mario got his own games where he jumps and runs to save Princess Peach from a fierce baddie named Bowser; however, Illumination and Nintendo was able to expand on that modest plot line, and even turn a few things on its head. We dig into those differences in the analysis below.
First, let’s review the star-studded cast:
- Chris Pratt – Mario
- Anya Taylor-Joy – Princess Peach
- Charlie Day – Luigi
- Jack Black – Bowser
- Keegan-Michael Key – Toad
- Seth Rogen – Donkey Kong
- Kevin Michael Richardson – Kamek
- Fred Armisen – Cranky Kong
- Sebastian Maniscalco – Foreman Spike
As you can imagine, the internet screamed their displeasure at the choice of Chris Pratt, gravely insulted that Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario in the video game series, was not selected; however, we heard his cameo in the movie. Overall, not only did the star power “put butts into seats” as people say, but they executed their role well. The movie introduces Mario and Luigi with their plumbing commercial, where their Italian accents are over the top, but turns out their “real” voices are much more toned down. Pratt and Day were able to embody the essence of Mario and Luigi without slamming us over the head with obnoxious accents.
There really wasn’t a weak link in the bunch, but the standout was Jack Black as the King of the Koopas, chewing scenery with charm and charisma that only Black is capable of doing. The fact that he was able to take such a one-note character and make it something new and exciting was no small feat; casting Black was a stroke of genius.
Honestly, each actor brought something new and exciting to each character they portrayed, and made me interested to see where they each go next in the inevitable sequels and spin-offs. Seth Rogan’s Donkey Kong was a particularly pleasant surprise, especially in his antagonistic relationship with Mario, which harkens back to their history as enemies in the video games.
The one gripe when it comes to characterization is in Princess Peach, voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy. Taylor-Joy did a great job voicing the character, don’t get me wrong, but her characterization was that of Princess Daisy, not Princess Peach. In the games, Daisy is the much more athletic, self-assured character while Peach is the more demure, poised princess. I have nothing wrong with the filmmakers trying to modernize the character, and completely understand why they did it, but the character they created already exists. I would have loved to see them do something different with Peach so that Daisy can still have a reason to be around in future films.
Also, I would have loved to see more from Charlie Day’s Luigi. It was an odd choice having the Mario brothers separated for most of the film, though I did love that they turned the ‘damsel-in-distress’ trope on its head by making Mario and Peach have to rescue Luigi from Bowser. Day just did such a great job as the more fearful Mario bro that I wish he had more screen time. Oh well, we’ll get that in the surely-to-be-announced-any-day-now spin-off film Luigi’s Mansion, right?
The graphics and sound were on par with Illlumination’s pedigree. Scenes were filled with color and detail, and while the character models were different than depicted in the games, they felt right at home in the world they built. The Super Mario Bros. Movie combined both licensed and Mario-based music, which I feel appeals to both the gaming and non-gaming audiences.
Besides Jack Black’s stellar performance as King Bowser, the other star of the show was the score by Bryan Tyler, featuring adaptations of classic Mario themes from all corners of the video game series, originally composed by Koji Kondo. Each piece brilliantly hints and pulls from seemingly every single game in the series, creating an auditory easter egg hunt for video game fans to feast their ears on.
As phenomenal as the score is, it is here that the partnership with Illumination seems to be the most questionable. There are a few pop-focused needle drops throughout the movie, a staple in Illumination movies, that completely take you out of the film. Do we need to see Mario and Luigi parkouring through the streets of Brooklyn to “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by the Beastie Boys? Or watch a montage of clips set to E.L.O.’s “Mr. Blue Sky” – a song that has already been used in a previous Chris Pratt film? Most frustratingly, there is a scene where Princess Peach and Mario are being driven through the Jungle Kingdom set to “Take on Me” by Aha; yet in the official soundtrack there is a piece called “Driving Bananas” that many are speculating was written for this scene, but was replaced in the final cut of the film. “Driving Bananas” is a terrific piece that pulls from the history of Donkey Kong themes throughout the years, and the fact that it was replaced for an existing song is frankly inexcusable.
The Illumination-ness of the movie doesn’t stop at the score, unfortunately. There are several scenes that are punctuated with hyper-slow motion “mamma mias!” and the like – literally every major action scene contains at least one. This is a trope in kid’s movies, particularly Illumination kid’s movies, that needs to die a slow painful death. This paired with the frenetic pace and some more slapstick moments again pulled me out of the film and made me remember I was watching an Illumination-created Mario movie, which is a shame because the other parts were so excellent.
The story was simple yet comprehensive for an hour and forty-four minute film. Bowser secures the all-powerful Star…to propose to Princess Peach with and rule the worlds with her. At first I was slightly disappointed to find the same motive in all the Mario games, but The Super Mario Bros. Movie does go a little meta on it and makes fun of it. When Bowser says he wants to marry Princess Peach in a “fairy tale” wedding, his entire army goes silent. He even plays the piano and sings a song about his love. The movie pokes fun at this bizarre crush as Boswer grows green with envy when he hears Mario is traveling with Peach.
There are several scenes that are quintessential Mario. The concept of Princess Peach training Mario on the obstacle course is pretty much a traditional Mario level. The fight between Mario and Donkey Kong pays tribute to the 1981 Donkey Kong game. Then, of course, we have Rainbow Road. Ripped straight from a Mario Kart game, we see Mario, Toad, Peach, and the Kongs selecting their karts and speeding along the winding paths. Banana peels and green shells flew about in a chaotic battle when the Koopas arrived. And yet, despite all these snippets from the video game universe, Illumination and Nintendo managed to weave a decent narrative that was simple, yet satisfying.I’m seeing a lot of reviewers slam the movie for the lack of a plot, but honestly, did we need a massive, complex story here? I don’t buy the excuse that it doesn’t need one because it is a kid’s movie (ever seen Encanto, or basically any Pixar film?), but The Super Mario Bros. Movie does feature a pretty simple plot and that is perfectly fine. There are some strong character motivations, with Mario wanting to prove to his family and friends that he isn’t a failure and the strength of brothers and family being enough to get you through anything. Could there have been more? Yes. But is that the fault of the movie that there wasn’t? No, not at all.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie exceeded every expectation I had, and then some. A stellar cast, scene-stealing score, and phenomenal visuals all combine together to create something super in every way. There are some issues that stem from the Illumination side of things, but that is honestly to be expected from the studio (though one does wonder what a Disney Mario movie would have been like in an alternate universe). I had the biggest smile on my face from start to finish, and even teared up at some of the scenes (with the final action scene being a highlight for me). I’ve been playing Mario games for years, and this is exactly the movie I wanted to see, and then some. And the fact that this was the first movie in a hopefully long line of movies from Nintendo? Let’s a-go.
Steph: The Super Mario Bros. Movie stepped up video game movies in a massive way. It acknowledges its identity as such and doesn’t try too hard to be anything else. Nintendo and Illumination worked synergistically to bring Mario into a colorful world (and I am glad Nintendo was there to ensure quality control). The music grabbed from both pop culture as well as traditional Mario music. Each character remained true to themselves, although we see the largest difference in Princess Peach–in the most positive way. The laughs were plentiful, as are the Easter Eggs. The Super Mario Bros. Movie brings joy to viewers of all ages like a satisfying bowl of soup after the end of a long, trying day. What warrants top ratings from me was the balance struck between “fan service” and quality which can be difficult to do in a franchise that can stir up some pretty deep nostalgia.
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Source: Rotten Tomatoes1
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