Illumination gives the Nintendo franchise a genuine adaptation even if it is a little bare-boned.
It was only a matter of time until everyone’s favorite Italian plumbers would be given another crack at the big screen, and it’s here in the form of The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Drawing from numerous games over the past 40+ years, the film serves as a start-up for what is sure to be the first in a long line of animated films based on characters from the Mario universe. Overall, the film is a bit vanilla when it comes to originality and storytelling; however, it’s difficult not to appreciate and enjoy the animation, nostalgia, score, and some of the voice cast that make up for the film’s shortcomings.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie finds the mustachioed plumbers from Brooklyn in a fish-out-of-water story, as they are transported by way of the infamous green pipe to other worlds run by the likes of Princess Peach, Bowser, and Cranky Kong. Once transported to these worlds, the brothers must adapt to the new environments and creatures, find a way back to each other, and save the world from the imposing Bowser.
Just like any other film aimed at kids, the plot of The Super Mario Bros. Movie is easy to follow and mostly formulaic. And by pulling from the oldest of video game consoles to the current generation, the film almost plays like a greatest hits album from your favorite band. Sure, you won’t expect anything deep in films like this, and the movie does feel bare at times like dry bones (skeletal versions of Koopa Troopas) from the Mario games. It’s a bit disappointing considering what a rich universe this film draws from that it seems to just cover the basics in around 85 minutes before the credits roll, even if you have never played any of the games.
What the film lacks in story and feeling entirely whole, however, is made up for in large part by the beautiful animation. Illumination, the company behind the Minions franchise, puts on display some of the most gorgeous animation you’ll ever see in an animated film. And given the work and attention to detail to the characters and settings, fans of the franchise will appreciate the look of this movie, along with the plethora of Easter eggs scattered throughout the film. Nostalgia, a huge driving force in Hollywood right now, will resonate with fans across generations, and it plays a big factor in areas of the film, especially in the score from Brian Tyler, who remixes classic scores from the Mario games so well. There are also plenty of gags, references, and familiar sounds from the games that will have audiences chuckling throughout the film.
The voice cast of The Super Mario Bros. Movie features some of Hollywood’s current biggest/hottest names, and for the most part is good, with each one bringing their own unique take to these notable characters. The standout voices of the film include Jack Black and Keegan-Machael Kay as Bowser and Toad respectively, who channel their characters perfectly and deliver some of the film’s funniest moments. And when Seth Rogen is not doing his traditional laugh we’ve grown accustomed to hearing in other films, he’s great as the voice of Donkey Kong. But if there’s one voice that feels miscast, it’s Anya Taylor-Joy, one of the best female actors in Hollywood right now, as Princess Peach. And last but not least, we can’t forget about the two main voice cast members, Chris Pratt and Charlie Day who voice Mario and Luigi. While fans of these characters from the games might not like the change in accents, both Pratt and Day are more than fine as the Mario brothers, applying their own takes as these two iconic characters.
If nothing else, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the perfect example of franchise building, even if it does feel a little thin beneath the surface. By having the animation and voice cast in place, the foundation for sequels and spin-offs has been laid for Illumination and Nintendo to take the franchise anywhere they want to. While the film might not have taken the super star it needed to make it an exceptional animated film, it inhales a mushroom and captures the spirit of the games fans have come to love over the years.