The Super Mario Bros. Movie Strikes Gold


Mario is a character that needs no introduction. He is to gaming what Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny is to cartoons: a flagship, a mascot that has become so prominent that it is the first thing that pops into most people’s minds when they say the phrase “video game”. The Super Mario Bros. franchise has spawned everything from chess boards to Saturday morning cartoon shows. And yet, the idea of a Mario movie, while frequently discussed, has never reached fruition. That is if you don’t count the surreal live-action adaptation from ‘93 in which the main villain is a colonialist alien lizard. Back in 2018, a Mario movie was officially announced by Nintendo, and after five years of waiting, it’s finally here.

The quality of films from Illumination, the studio that produced The Super Mario Bros. Movies have historically been shaky. Though responsible for films like Despicable Me and The Lorax, in recent years, movies like Sing 2 and The Grinch haven’t fared so well according to critics. Yet, the trailers alone eased worries that this film would not live up to a legacy that Nintendo, the creators of Mario, have been building for decades. The movie is gorgeous and it knows it; not a second is wasted as visual after beautiful visual is thrown at you. The movie’s breakneck pace allowed the animators to stuff the film’s hour-and-a-half runtime full of interesting 3D character and landscape designs.

The film is also packed with references that celebrate its source material, drawing from all eras of Mario’s forty-year history, whether it is a visual detail that nods to some obscure in-game detail or chords in the film’s soundtrack that make you do a double take. These references aren’t in your face. They can be admired by fans while not being obtrusive to less knowledgeable viewers.

One particular critique of the movie that has gained traction online is the pacing. Many believe that the film moves too fast through its plot and doesn’t spend enough time on its characters. While I understand where this comes from, I’d like to remind these people that this film is meant for children, and while this may not be ideal for older viewers, the pacing is perfect for modern kids with their whirlwind attention spans. As for the characters, was it really expected that this movie would take a deep dive into the complex psyche of Mario and his relationship with his brother? I should not need to explain why that’s a stupid expectation for a movie based on a series of games with basically non-existent plots. This sense of simplicity is what grounds the Mario franchise, and if the movie deviated from this, it would hardly be the “Mario” movie.

  Another popular criticism is the choice of casting for the film. This I am more sympathetic to. Having an entourage of big-shot actors and actresses like Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Jack Black voicing these roles may have helped to sell the movie in its advertising, but it did little for the quality of the movie. I’ll give credit where it’s due; the three actors did good or even great work in their respective roles, and yet, that doesn’t excuse the fact that the experience could have been even better if the executives behind the movie actually put some time in matching roles to voice actors instead of slapping big name stars onto the cast list for some easy money.

This segways into another problem with the movie, one that’s more difficult to put into words. Several hours after leaving the theater, I realized that this movie, for all its flashy action sequences and heartfelt moments, lacked memorability and distinctness. You could have prompted me to sequence the entire Mario movie the day it was announced and I would have done it with near-perfect accuracy. I could see every plot device and event coming from a mile away and none of them were creative. If the scene of the villainous Bowser singing a cheesy love song to an imaginary Princess Peach is disqualified, this movie would be devoid of any moments worthy of quality studios like Pixar or Ghibli. For a creative franchise that always manages to throw its fans off its trail, a fighter that always has a surprise left hook, this is disappointing. Though the film’s story isn’t bad, Mario deserves better than the predictable plot produced by Illumination.

Luckily, we may get another Mario movie yet. Judging by the sales figures of this film, greenlighting a sequel will be a no-brainer for both Illumination and Nintendo. But until then, I’m happy to say that I’m mostly satisfied with what we have. The Super Mario Bros. movie, despite its flaws, is simple fun, and that’s what it should be.