2023 | PG | starring voices of Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Anya Taylor-Joy, Seth Rogen, Keegan Michael-Key | directed by Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic and Pierre Leduc | 1h 32m |
I guess I never really thought about the universe surrounding the Super Mario games. Nintendo has always been a company that put box-busting, platforming fun over delivering a complex story so I never thought about what it mean for Princess Peach to be ruler of the Mushroom kingdom, how did she, a human, come to rule toadstools and why Bowser was so intent on capturing her. It all ties together smoothly in Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a solid, old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing animated adventure that brings a multitude of games from Nintendo’s mascot to life. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to.
Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are trying to get their fledgling plumbing business off the ground in Brooklyn when one day the duo are sucked through a pipe portal and land in the Mushroom Kingdom where dragon Bowser (Jack Black) is on a quest to recover a Super Star that will let him win the heart of Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and rule the Mushroom Kingdom with his army of Koopas.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie stands as a great case for why Computer Generated Animation as a medium works in the first place. Not to make cartoons as detailed and lifelike as possible, but to re-create video game worlds and provide an immersive fluidity in the movements that neither hand-drawn animation or live action actors can replicate. With the infamous failure of the 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros movie at it’s back, Illumination doesn’t attempt to re-create the wheel but simply stitch together this universe and provide the closest thing to playing a Super Mario game on the big screen. I’m amazed at how often it works, from side-scrolling sequences of parkour across Brooklyn, to the running and jumping platforming turned into a training montage to a full-speed kart race across Rainbow Road. Mario’s ability to eat mushrooms and either turn big or into a surprise animal also plays into the rules of the movie. The references range from the obvious to the rap theme from The Super Mario Bros Super Show and fold in Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), the animal transformations of Mario 2 the flying of Super Mario 3 and Galaxy., Luigi’s Mansion and of course Mario Kart.
The movie works on it’s own as a strange full-blown medieval fantasy, which will also ensnare the little ones that never had a Nintendo system into a thrilling animated adventure. It’s paced for an actual child’s attention span – unlike the long, bloated Disney movies of late – and ratchets up the stakes to create something genuinely exciting in the third act. This movie has a rousing a 90s-style grand finale that saves it’s best stuff for last.
The politically correct bug has bit the film, and the game’s missions of saving the princess are re-wired to Mario saving Luigi (from a prison cell suspended over molten lava). This sidelines Princess Peach into a nothing role of Mario’s trainer which is fine because the movie is built around the brotherly bond of the two plumbers.
The Super Mario Bros Movie isn’t very funny, save for the first Despicable Me few Illumination movies actually are, but I also appreciated that it wasn’t ironic and infused with social satire. I love The Lego Movie like few things, but not every movie can and should be a deconstructionist look at it’s own source material. I appreciated that Illumination came to this project to homage the material. The movie seems like something created out of affection for Mario, Nintendo and this universe and it’s a heck of a lot of fun too.