Credit: Nintendo/Universal Pictures (Screenshot via bbc.com)
Volunteer Writer: Jesse L. Magnifico
The Super Mario Bros. is finally a video game movie adaptation done right. It’s not perfect, but it’s still darn good — phenomenally better and far more accurate than the 1993 live-action version.
Brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) start their own plumbing company. Their father criticizes them for leaving an already steady job to pursue entrepreneurship costing their life savings.
Attempting to assert his independent sufficiency, Mario seizes an opportunity with his unwilling brother to fix a sewer pipe causing major flooding in the Brooklyn streets.
Their “rescue” mission goes sideways when they are transported to mysterious worlds: the Mushroom Kingdom and the Darklands, respectively.
Mario is determined to save Luigi from Bowser (Jack Black), who is overtaking the world to impress Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) with the intent of marrying her. With the help of Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), Princess Peach, and other friends acquired along the way, Mario and co. rise to stop Bowser.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: the voice acting.
When Miyamoto broke the news of the voice cast in a Nintendo Direct announcement last year, everyone laughed.
You mean to tell me the guy behind the Mario universe revealing Chris Pratt as Mario, Charlie Day as Luigi, Jack Black as Bowser, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, and Keegan-Michael Key as Toad was not hilarious?
It caught me off guard, that’s for sure.
It seemed like a joke — or like Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, directors of the movie, believed stuffing the most comedians and well-known actors translated to better comedy and a better movie overall.
Why not reprise the original Mario/Luigi voice legend himself, Charles Martinet? Instead, he voices the brothers’ father and is given a mini surprise appearance at the beginning of the film.
Regardless, they are not the voice actors we need but the ones we deserve, I suppose.
As much as it feels like a fever dream to hear the cast’s voices attached to beloved, veteran Nintendo characters, they deliver sterling performances.
Okay, sure, Mario and Luigi’s Italian accents are duds for a commercial promoting their plumbing business, but Pratt and Rogen depict the brothers in honorable nature to Martinet.
Princess Peach is a girl boss, Toad a semi-foolish courageous protector, and Donkey Kong is self-centered and humorously sarcastic, to put it lightly.
The performance that awes me the most is Jack Black’s. His dedication to the role as the big, bad King Koopa is palpable — and he set the precedent for the character because Bowser has never had a talking voice in the games, only text bubbles or utterances of growls and roars.
I couldn’t ask for a better Bowser. It’s a nice change of pace to see him with a soft, playful side amid his constant animosity and frustration.
The infamous lizard-turtle is mildly reimagined in the demeanor of Black’s alluring kookiness. Never doubt the man for juggling when to be serious and when to let the Jack Black/Tenacious D performance shine because he accomplishes just that.
He presents Bowser as the baddie he is, all while sprinkling in humor.
By far, the best chuckle-worthy scene (and the best part overall) is Bowser’s heartfelt song for Princess Peach — and don’t take my word for it.
Illumination posted the movie’s original soundtrack on music platforms on April 7th, and “Peaches” already sits top 14 on Apple Music at the time of writing.
The ballad is also eligible to enter the Oscars for best original song.
The voice cast does not mitigate nor destroy the grandeur and appeal of the Mario games. Across the board, tones of voice, emotions, and the corresponding moods generated are authentic in every sequence, and humor isn’t forced despite the comedic lineup. Everyone delivers their lines fantastically, offering comedic relief when rightly applicable.
There is unmitigated devotion to the quality presentation of the characters.
Beyond voices, Illumination is faithful to Nintendo’s designs.
Physicalities are captured marvelously, proving prodigious attention to reflect the game studio’s original details with pristine visuals. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Donkey Kong — you name them — they are stunning on the big screen.
It’s impossible to miss the textured fabric of the brothers’ overalls, individual strands of hair on Donkey Kong, or Bowser’s reptilian scales.
The number of references and Easter eggs littered throughout the film are able to put a smile on fans’ faces. Once Mario and Luigi are sucked into a magical green pipe under Brooklyn’s sewers, plenty of icons from the wacky world of 20+ games make their appearances.
Toads, Piranha Plants, Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Dry Bones, Cheep Cheeps, Shy Guys, Bullet Bills, Bob-ombs, Yoshis, and others are present in Mario’s adventure.
They all feel natural and part of their environment — they don’t simply exist for fan service.
Beyond the creature features, Illumination references the games through score and environment.
Nearly every scene is accompanied by theme songs reimagined for a charming, climactic, cinematic soundtrack. With 1-to-2-second snippets of recognition from the games’ original tracks, the score vastly enhances moments of fast-paced action, suspense, and excitement from start to finish.
The film’s composer, Brian Tyler, notes there are at least 130 Mario song references!
Even more references:
– Luigi’s phone ringtone is the GameCube startup noise.
– When Luigi arrives at the Darklands (Bowser’s territory), the gloomy, spooky atmosphere is a minor reference to Luigi’s Mansion, the scene associated with the game’s theme.
– When Mario duels Donkey Kong to earn the Kong army’s assistance against Bowser, the DK Rap promptly introduces Donkey Kong to the battlefield.
One delightful scene is when Mario, Toad, Peach, and the Kong army prepare their karts to surprise ambush Bowser. Throughout the scene, the Mario Kart 8 character/kart selection music plays, and then the characters drive on the iconic Rainbow Road.
What is Mario without the 2D platformer gimmicks?
As much as the experience is captured realistically in a three-dimensional space, the camerawork positions itself several times to resemble the games’ 2D style to display the characters parkouring across emblematic blocks (among other obstacles) and beating up bad guys.
It’s sincerely a fun, pleasant touch honing in on the Mario experience.
Perhaps the vast appeal of The Super Mario Bros. is its gargantuan nostalgia trip, but to declare such a thing is truly doing it a disservice.
Sure, the plot is nothing special, one reminiscent of the games featuring Mario and co. stepping up to save the day with Mario as the white knight, but it’s still a narrative worth watching.
It’s invigorating to hear Mario and the gang speak and shout more than “Wahoo!” and “Yahoo!” and “Oh, yeah, Mario time!” It’s spectacular to gain the monumental lay of the land as the heroes trek the Mushroom Kingdom and yonder into distant lands.
That is all to say the movie is not solely eye candy and fan service distracting viewers from trivial narrative blemishes. To frame it succinctly, the characters possess life, and Illumination plays it safe by following the plot of many of the games while adding little twists of their own.
I can excuse Mario and Luigi’s absent Italian accents because they may reasonably become an earache and/or an old gimmick quickly, but I am left wondering where, oh, where are our New York plumbers’ Brooklyn accents?
Maybe I’m too harsh, but then again, it’s not a deal breaker. I’m simply nitpicking.
The only thing I wished Illumination did better was dedicate more time to lore-building.
The narration doesn’t ruin the film as much as notable critics shape it to be, but this movie has been an opportunity for Illumination and Nintendo to expand and reveal more than the games have.
Princess Peach mentions that when she was a child, she randomly stumbled into the Mushroom Kingdom. She wandered into the green pipe — but how? How did she separate from her parents or guardians? There is only one green pipe shown in the “real” world of Brooklyn in the sewer system — was she from Brooklyn?
She doesn’t physically nor mentally need to recall it, but the direction of animation could have depicted her straying from her parents/guardians, pushing the puzzle-piecing onto viewers — a dramatic irony of sorts.
And how come the Toads decided to make her of all people — ahem, Toads — the princess? Was there ever a previous monarch?
Besides Princess Peach and the history of the Mushroom Kingdom, a couple of others deserve more screen time for fleshing-out purposes: Donkey Kong and the brothers’ father. Their characterizations are relatively superficial.
Donkey Kong is straight-up cocky and self-centered the moment he arrives on screen, yet when an opportunity arises for him to reveal why he’s stuck up all the time, his anger quickly represses the notion.
The scene is framed to be semi-humorous as Mario and Donkey Kong both tell each other that their dads think they are respectively losers, meaning the whole dispute is brushed aside as quickly as it starts.
Speaking of dads, Mario has daddy issues, but the “issue” is… bland. His father does not support his entrepreneurial plumbing business, spitting out jokes and firmly asserting his dislike about Mario’s decision. It’s an elementary trick to get the ball rolling.
But once Mario and Luigi rescue Brooklyn from Bowser’s assault, their father is overtly approving. Hmm…
Watch it, love it, embrace it. You will, I know it, I promise.
Don’t listen to the big critics. Don’t.
They’re too cynical and set the bar strikingly high.
Long-time and casual players of the games, young and old, will be beyond delighted watching this film — and they already are.
Sure, there are minor aspects of plot and character development that Illumination could have spent more time on, but it doesn’t cause outright degradation to the entire film.
These minor faults do not erase the sheer beauty and captivation of The Super Mario Bro.
The audience score is significantly higher than the critic score because the majority of viewers are sitting at theaters as fans.
We cherish the references and mega nostalgia trips throughout the entire movie, we are ecstatic Illumination sticks to Nintendo’s original designs, and the voice actors/actresses deliver a mighty marvelous performance.
The magical, classical essence of Nintendo’s game is ineffably captured.
One issue that is brought up time and time again by major critics is Illumination’s potential to explain why the Mushroom Kingdom is so weird. Princess Peach directly denies any known knowledge as to why power-ups or magical sucking pipes exist.
Honestly speaking, how can we viewers/players or Miyamoto himself explain the existence of yellow mystery blocks, the power-ups, a talking gorilla, monstrous plants with razor teeth, and what-have-you?
Can you offer any good reasons, because I sure can’t.
And does that truly matter to the plot? No. Nintendo’s game has existed long enough that we accept their ingenuity and peculiarity partly without question.
The Super Mario Bros. makes you feel like a kid again, and that is enough to ask for.
The movie is delightful. It’s funny. It’s nostalgic. It’s a loyal adaptation.