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Film Review: “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” Is a Proper Ode to Its Video-Game Roots

Written by: Adam Vaughn | April 4th, 2023

Film poster: “The Super Mario Bros. Movie”

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Aaron Horvath/Michael Jelenic, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.

Let’s-A-Go! The worldwide video-game phenomenon Super Mario Bros. finally makes its return to the big screen, bringing all the colorful and exotic visuals to life. After the last grim and disappointing film three decades ago, Nintendo has combined with Illumination to bring the two plumbing brothers their due, the result being a much more vibrant, family-friendly, and cleverly crafted animation wonderland of a film. Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic have made the perfect homage to Mario–voice-cast to perfection—and while it may not be a total cinematic masterpiece, The Super Mario Bros. Movie solidifies a worthy and memorable representation of one of the most beloved franchises in all video-game history.

Shining a bit of a new light on Mario (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World: Dominion) and Luigi (Charlie Day, Hotel Artemis), the film gives us the two brothers initially in a modern-world setting, serving society as actual plumbers trying to get their family business off the ground. Exploring the sewers of their New York borough, the two find themselves whisked into a strange green pipeline, where they find themselves in the exotic and fanciful Mushroom Kingdom. Just in time, too, for the vile King Bowser (Jack Black, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story) has stolen the mystical Power Star in an attempt to rule the land, with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy, Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit series) as his bride. But as Peach fights back against Bowser, Mario must save not only his captured brother Luigi, but the entire Mushroom Kingdom.

l-r: Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) in Nintendo and Illumination’s THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE

Giving Mario and Luigi a real-world scenario doesn’t necessarily add much to the story, but it does give our heroes a bit of a “Wizard of Oz” scenario, as two seemingly unimpressive plumbers are whisked into a fantastic and colorful world. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is filled with as much Mario lore as possible, splashing in beloved side characters, including henchmen of all sorts, as well as introducing Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen, The Fabelmans) and the Donkey Kong Country to the story. Truly, fans of the franchise get their full portion of easter eggs and hidden homages to the games, and regular moviegoers will be splashed with all of the fascinating aesthetic that the games have offered over the years. Not only do Horvath and Jelenic include updated renditions of the game characters and worlds, but the movie’s pop-culture soundtrack gives proper honor to the 1980s time period in which Mario was first introduced.

While there has been considerable backlash about Pratt and Day not interpreting the beloved duo as Italian characters (I myself was a bit disappointed initially), I thoroughly enjoyed the two actors’ renditions of the characters as regular New York citizens, and over time the development of these versions of Mario and Luigi complement each other for the better. Not to mention that there is a quick homage to their iconic voices anyway! Truly, the combination of animated wonders and committed voice-character performances will take the film far with audiences of all kinds.

l-r: Mario (Chris Pratt) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) in Nintendo and Illumination’s THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE

Nevertheless, there is a sense that we have seen this overall storyline before. The underdog/down-on-their-luck heroes start small and end big, the villainy thrives for a while only to lose in the end, and a band of supporting characters lead the heroes on their journey. No doubt the idea is to keep it simple for the kids and regular moviegoers, but Horvath and Jelenic by no means take any narrative risk with the content, sticking to the source material like glue and never deviating or trying any huge risks. Then again, many video-game-based films have done the opposite, only to fail miserably (let us not forget that original ‘90s movie!).

Therefore, I consider The Super Mario Bros. Movie to be a huge success, playing to its strengths at every moment, and bringing Nintendo’s golden goose of a franchise to its fullest capabilities. Sure, the film plays it safe, overall, but at no point does that stop Mario and Luigi’s adventure from being coherent, engaging, and a multicolored wonder. Fans of the franchise finally have the movie they’ve been waiting for, and anyone seeing this film as a stranger to the videogame is given a bright and honest introduction.

Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) in Nintendo and Illumination’s THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE

Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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