The Super Mario Bros. Movie (aka Super Mario Bros: The Movie) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Nintendo has had a strong legacy over four decades that it was bound to make bank on a Mario movie. They went with Illumination to make their theatrical animated movie, a studio known for fiscally strong but critically weak films. The final result is a film safe enough to please hard-core fans and shareholders with its commercial product.
Mario gets the standard Illumination treatment with a faithful design, pastiche writing, lukewarm slapstick, and a jukebox soundtrack. The titular hero, voiced by a vanilla Chris Pratt, is established as a plumber with dreams of being a local hero. Working alongside his devoted brother Luigi (Charlie Day), his plans seem so hard, with many setbacks and a lack of support from his peers and family. He'll get to prove himself after stumbling into a mysterious fantasy world below the sewers.
While the fantasy realm of magical creatures is the familiar location of the games, it turns the movie into little more than a ride. Characters like Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), Bowser (Jack Black), Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) become little more than additional players than characters in this adventure. They have interesting quirks that Peter out fast like someone pressing the button to skip their cutscenes. I hope you didn't have your heart set on Donkey Kong's daddy issues being explored or adequately resolved. The film forgets about this aspect when it gets to its Mario Kart sequence.
The enjoyment of the film depends on how much reverence you have for Nintendo trivia and how long you can guzzle the film’s flood of references. One of the first scenes in the film features references to Wrecking Crew, Gamecube, The Super Mario Bros Super Show, and Charles Martinet. Do not expect these references to be uniquely woven into the fabric of this film or passively placed in the background. They’re shoved to the foreground and the punchline is that Nintendo stuff exists in this Nintendo movie, coming off less like a remake of 1993’s Super Mario Bros movie and more like 1989’s The Wizard.
To the film’s credit, the animation is lush and varied enough never to become mundane. The many islands of the fantasy kingdoms are teeming with vibrance and color, from the candy-coated cityscape of the Mushroom Kingdom to the elaborate highway system of Kong Island. However, the only way to appreciate these locations is through fast, furious, and dizzying action sequences. Mario’s intro to the Mushroom Kingdom features him slipping and sliding around its many platforms and pipes, referencing how tricky the games could be.
So many of these locations feel less like societies and more like rollercoasters, especially Kong Island’s absurd go-kart transportation system. It’s neat to look at, but by this point in the film, it becomes pretty clear the film will be little more than this mindless action. You might even wonder how this will tie into Mario proving himself to his parents. Well, it happens so inexplicably that most Nintendo fans will be too busy counting up all the game references ever to notice.
The Super Mario Bros Movie is about as sloppy and blandly assembled as every other Illumination movie. While other commercial-based animated films like The LEGO Movie were able to tap into something more playful and fun relating to its product, this Nintendo property plays itself far too safe, almost as if the filmmakers were so worried about pleasing the fans that they took the material too seriously. What comes of this formula is a movie where the most impressive aspect is how the staging reflects the platform aspect of the games and less so the personality of the players scaling blocks and hopping on Koopas.