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The Super Mario Bros Movie ★★★★



Directors: Michael Jelenic & Aaron Horvath

Cast: Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Kevin Michael Richardson, Sebastian Maniscalco, Keegan-Michael Key

Release: 5th April 2023

If you were to look at some of the films deemed ‘the worst films ever made’, there is a chance that the synonymous 1993 live-action adaptation of Super Mario Bros will be there. Despite having screen legends such as the late Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper, the film was a commercial and critical disaster upon release – needless to say, there has been reluctance on Nintendo’s part (especially Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto) to see the famous plumber back on the big screen…until now.

Produced by Despicable Me studio Illumination, The Super Mario Bros Movie features an all-star cast that includes Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black and Seth Rogen. The film sees Brooklyn plumber Mario (Pratt) transported into the Mushroom Kingdom to save his brother Luigi (Day), who has been captured by Bowser (Black).

Even before its release, Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s co-directorial feature has a mountain to conquer. Mario’s legacy is second to none, introducing sounds, icons, music and characters that have made their mark in pop culture. Demons of the 1993 film aside, the latest film adaptation of Super Mario needs to not only win over fans while celebrating and remaining faithful to a franchise that has spanned nearly 40 years. But films such as The Lego Movie, its spin-off The Lego Batman Movie, and even Detective Pikachu show that a franchise-based film can work – but only if it is done right.

At first glance, the colours of The Super Mario Bros Movie pop out of the screen and into the eyes of its audience. The candy-coloured graphics are reminiscent of every modern Mario game, from Super Mario World to Super Mario Kart, resulting in a symphony of colours singing from the screen, with an adrenaline-fuelled race being a standout scene.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of Miyamoto allows Matthew Fogel’s screenplay to delve deep into the history of the franchise, referencing not only the video games but also the cartoon series from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. As a result, the film becomes a fully laden time capsule that allows adults (and Mario fans) to revisit their childhood and educates younger audiences on the history of the character. 

This consistency with previous media is also reflected in the character development, as Luigi’s cowardly demeanour and Bowser’s mission to conquer the kingdom are consistent with the cartoons. But the film is not all old school – Princess Peach shrugs off the damsel in distress cape to become a proactive leader of the Mushroom Kingdom, and Bowser’s passion for rock ballads makes him come across as more of a lover than a fighter. As for Mario, he is a determined character who takes on each challenge, obstacle and enemy with gusto (amid the odd scream of panic). Eventually overcoming his ironic aversion to mushrooms, his inner need to prove himself in an unfamiliar world makes him an unlikely but ultimately endearing hero.

With so many visual elements proving a hit in early trailers, the only thing that caused criticism was the casting with Pratt, in particular, proving unpopular with fans who are used to Mario’s super-strong accent. But audiences need to remember that Mario isn’t another Italian stereotype – he is supposed to be a plumber from Brooklyn who is sucked into another world that can otherwise be deemed as make-believe. Thankfully, the film pays a brief homage to Mario’s strong accent at the film’s start before launching into the main adventure, allowing the vocal performances from not only Pratt but also Taylor Joy and Day to blend well with the chaos on screen, buoyed by Day’s enthusiastic performance as Toad. In addition, Black and Rogen lean deep into their respective performances as Bowser and Donkey Kong, bringing occasional comic relief amid bouts of bravado.

Regarding pace and tone, The Super Mario Bros Movie feels like a 90-minute session of Mario. Balancing the multitude of elements and supporting characters such as Donkey Kong (Rogen) and Bowser’s faithful sorcerer Kamek (Keith Michael Richardson) causes the scales to tip at times, preventing the story from delving deep enough to form emotional attachment among the characters – instead, the filmmakers seem to rely on the film’s faithfulness to the franchise to maintain it. While the oversimplistic narrative leaves characters such as Luigi and Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) feeling wasted, Horvath and Jelenic’s efforts tease the idea of an endless number of worlds ‘out there’, so only time will tell if Mario and Luigi will get the chance to explore (and save) them.

It may have been over 30 years in the making, but The Super Mario Bros Movie is an absolute joy. While kids lose themselves in a fun-filled adventure to save the Mushroom Kingdom, adults can revel in the nostalgia where every nod to Nintendo is delivered to perfection.

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