For years, the Mario brothers have been a staple of pop culture, headlining Nintendo as the studio’s biggest mascots. When it comes to games, Nintendo has never failed to create such engaging titles for millions of players. On the other hand, the studio had a small taste of Hollywood through both The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! and 1993’s Super Mario Bros. However, both projects seemed to halt Nintendo’s aspirations for a franchise expansion into movies and television. This was the case until now, with Universal and Illumination in the car alongside Nintendo to create a new and modern animated adaptation of the classic franchise everyone loves.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie, directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, is an animated adaptation following the origins of Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) as their adventures lead them to a new world: the Mushroom Kingdom. However, with Luigi falling into Bowser’s (Jack Black) hands, Mario must find new allies in Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the adventurous Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) to rescue his brother. Their journey takes them far and wide, meeting more iconic characters like Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) and Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) all while embarking on this grand quest.
As probably the best element of the movie, the animation and visual designs of this film are wonderfully done. There’s no doubt about it that Illumination wants to invigorate the essence of what makes a Mario game special as each location bears its own uniqueness. From the high-density streets of Brooklyn to the winding towns of the Mushroom Kingdom to Bowser’s high-flying lair, it definitely feels like every set piece takes on its own life with its own tone thanks to its unique color palette. The character designs are also perfectly executed with each character, from the biggest Kong to the smallest Spiny (yes, that’s what they’re called) being replicated down to the last detail while incorporating some realism in their designs. Add to that the numerous references to both Mario and other Nintendo titles and the nostalgia factor just clicks.
The animation wonderfully supplements the action, which does a great job of utilizing elements of games like Super Mario 3D Land, 3D World, and so many other games that I wish I could list here! Every action sequence evokes a feeling of nostalgic satisfaction and intensity you and your friends feel when you’re speed-running a level, racing in Mario Kart, or even playing a session of Smash Bros. As a bonus, Brian Tyler and Koji Kondo’s score greatly accompanies the action, meshing originality with great re-hashings of so many well-known themes from the franchise. The movie definitely succeeds in these fields and it continues to do so with the performance of its main cast.
For the most part, the main cast put on stellar performances with their characters. For me, Jack Black as Bowser has to be the standout. He invokes an antagonistic charm that balances both comedy and dramatic prowess. Plus, he did put on some great musical performances that he told us about a few months ago, which got some genuine laughs out of me. Charlie Day’s Luigi is the second, with Day blending hints of his Always Sunny persona with Luigi’s shy, yet selfless personality to fully flesh out his character. Seth Rogen fully took the comedic smarminess to the next level with Donkey Kong, happily embodying a good comic relief when needed. Anya Taylor-Joy, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen, and Kevin Michael Richardson (Kamek) take confidence in their roles, albeit on various degrees, and superbly support Pratt, Day, and Black.
However, there are still some problems that bring this movie down a peg or two. For one, while I do admire Chris Pratt trying to bring Mario to life, I couldn’t help but feel that he was still channeling his inner cool guy. His performance slightly improves from what we got in the trailers, but never reaches that perfect balance between Pratt’s interpretation and Martinet’s classic voice. Secondly, some of the humor in this film can be a bit tiring, as some of the jokes (though one in particular) are grating and annoying more than the filmmakers intended.
The biggest issue that looms over this film has to be the pacing of the story. No doubt, the foundations of the story fit the criteria for what a Mario game should be. The problem is that the movie progresses its story too quickly, not allowing much time to register and resonate with what’s happening in each scene. Throughout the movie, there were several points where the movie could have dialed back the action and progression, perhaps with more character-driven moments, to create a stronger emotional connection with viewers. There were a few lines here and there that provided that, but most of the conversations are either there to elicit a laugh from the audience or force the story forward. The few moments that did get emotional depth felt rushed as well, occurring in action-filled minutes during climactic scenes. I suppose that because this movie is kid-oriented with a short runtime, emotional development takes a back seat.
In the end, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a nostalgic adaptation that utilizes its beautiful animation, awesome action and hilarious comedy to take things up a notch for Illumination. Though it may have its problems, there is potential substance to grow an emotional core and, perhaps, a tonal maturity in future content. With a heavily explored and detailed world in the games, the Mushroom Kingdom isn’t short of great stories that could take this universe down a longer and more compelling path. While I do hope that a sequel could continue building on this incredible world with its next villain, there’s no doubt The Super Mario Bros. Movie will take Nintendo to the next level on the big screen.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie releases in theaters on April 5.