'The Super Mario Bros. Movie': A Fun Video Game Adaptation That Plays It Safe
In 1993, a film based on the highly popular Super Mario Bros. video game series was released. It would go on to become a huge box-office bomb, and was hated by critics and audiences alike. The film's failure is a likely cause as to why Nintendo hasn't allowed hardly any of their properties to get the big-screen treatment. But thirty years later, we finally have another Mario movie in theaters. While the 1993 film was live-action, this version is animated. Considering that the prevailing issue most have with the 1993 version is how unlike the games it is, the switch to animation is a good call, as it gives the film more freedom to capture the imagination and vibrancy of the games. Like many, I grew up playing various Super Mario games (I was particularly fond of Super Mario 64 as a child), and still enjoy playing them as an adult. I couldn't help but be skeptical when this new Mario movie was announced, mainly due to the poor track record that most video game adaptations have. However, I couldn't help but want to see it, mainly due to my nostalgia for the games. I wouldn't say that The Super Mario Bros. Movie is particularly great, I can't deny that it is a fun time, and is a treat for longtime fans of the games.
Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) are two brothers trying to get their plumbing business off the ground in Brooklyn, New York. One evening, they enter a warp pipe, and are transported to a strange new world. Mario finds himself in the Mushroom Kingdom, while Luigi ends up being captured by the evil Bowser (voiced by Jack Black) who has a nefarious plan to take over the world. Mario must team up with iconic characters such as Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy) and Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen) in order to save his brother and the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser and his army of Koopas.
The film's story is rather simple and is honestly kind of predictable. This doesn't surprise me, but I was kind of hoping there might be a little more to it than what we get. That said, it's important to remember that the games have never been particularly story-based, and this film is ostensibly for kids. That's not to say that movies for kids can't have substance or break from convention, but it is understandable that this film doesn't have much going for it in terms of its narrative. However, its simplicity is a bit refreshing, as it allows the film to feel a bit breezier and go down easy. I feel like if I was watching this as a kid, I would absolutely love it, but as an adult, I can't help but take issue with how lazy some of the writing feels. It does rely pretty heavily on nostalgia and references to the games, which is nice to see as a fan, but it only does so much in the grand scheme of things.
But what the film lacks in writing, it makes up for with its infectious energy. It is fast-paced, and wastes little time throughout. It has a fun, upbeat tone that it maintains rather consistently, and captures the essence of the games nicely. On top of this, the film's animation is gorgeous. It takes some of the familiar iconography of the games and translates it to the screen quite well. It allows the iconic characters and worlds of the games to feel more cinematic, and it grabs the viewer's attention from the get-go. The bright colors and vibrant imagery made me feel like I was having a sugar rush, and I mean that as a compliment. It definitely took me back to playing the games as a kid, and even if it hits the nostalgia a bit hard, I must admit that I couldn't help but smile at some of the visual references to the games.
One of the details that I was most nervous about going into this film was the casting of Chris Pratt as Mario. On paper he seems wildly miscast, in execution, however, he's not that bad. He isn't trying to imitate the iconic voice heard in the video games, but instead does a Brooklyn accent. It works slightly better than I would expect, and isn't particularly grating at the very least. I still don't think he's necessarily the best casting choice for Mario, but he isn't too bad here. Charlie Day is quite good as Luigi, but he isn't given all that much to do. Day's trademark neurotic energy is a good fit for Luigi, and he certainly makes the most of his scenes. Seth Rogen is solid as Donkey Kong, and he brings his personality to the character effortlessly. He is quite funny throughout, and truly makes the character his own. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how good Anya Taylor-Joy is as Princess Peach. When films cast big names instead of established voice actors, it can be a gamble, but Taylor-Joy clearly has a knack for voice acting. She takes what could have been a thankless role and allows Peach to be one of the more engaging characters of the film. Of course, the MVP is none other than Jack Black who is perfectly cast as the iconic villain, Bowser. Black clearly relishes getting a chance to play the bad guy, and uses elements of his distinct persona perfectly throughout the film. He even gets the chance to sing a song in the film, titled Peaches, and it is honestly one of the highlights of the entire movie. It's more or less what you would expect from Jack Black playing Bowser, but in the best possible way.
The Super Mario Bros. certainly lacks quite a bit in the writing department, and is rather light and simple, but there's no doubt that diehard Mario fans will absolutely love this film. It captures the fun and excitement of the games, and is perhaps one of the better video game adaptations I've ever seen. I couldn't help but feel nostalgic while watching it, and I honestly had a good time with it. I do wish there was more to the film, but I can understand why it plays it safe and keeps things uncomplicated. It may leave a bit to be desired, but there is still plenty of fun to be had, especially for fans of the games.