We're as Shocked as You Are That 'The Super Mario Bros. Movie' Is Actually Great

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic

Starring Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Sebastian Maniscalco, Charles Martinet, Kevin Michael Richardson

Photo courtesy of Nintendo and Universal Studios

BY Rachel HoPublished Apr 4, 2023

Movies based on video games have a terrible reputation; translating the fantastical nature of a video game to live action is really difficult to do. This isn't even mentioning that, the last time one of the most recognizable video game characters ever created was brought to cinematic life, it resulted in the hot mess that is 1993's Super Mario Bros. But here we are 30 years later with a Super Mario movie that is imaginative, fun and expertly pays homage to the all-star of Nintendo's legacy. 

Living in Brooklyn, NY, Mario (Chris Pratt) and his little brother Luigi (Charlie Day) have decided to venture out on their own and start a plumbing business, despite the skepticism of their father. After seeing news of a water main issue causing flooding in the streets, the two go underground in an attempt to save Brooklyn and prove their naysayers wrong. While investigating the cause of the leak, Mario and Luigi discover a series of pipes and get sucked into one of them, transporting them into a rainbow-coloured vortex.

Mario lands in Mushroom Kingdom, where he's greeted by Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), an adorable little mushroom with an adventure pack on his back ready for whatever. When Mario tells Toad his brother was separated from him, Toad surmises Luigi is in the Dark Lands, the territory of Bowser (Jack Black). Toad takes Mario to the ruler of Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), and the three train and plot to reunite Mario and Luigi, as well as saving the kingdom from Bowser, who has obtained the Super Star. 

I always felt that one of the main reasons for video game adaptations failing was because the movies weren't left in their animated form, as per the source material. Learning from the mistakes of their past, Nintendo partnered with Illumination, the animation studio co-owned by Universal Pictures and best known for the Despicable Me and Minions franchises. Together, they have created a gorgeous-looking film that is colourful and vibrant, and suitably captures the different incarnations of Super Mario

When the video game Super Mario Bros. was first released in 1985 on the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), it became well known for its side-scrolling format. After the game received an upgrade for the N64 console, the gameplay was more dynamic with players being able to see all sides of the action. The Super Mario Bros. Movie illustrates this change in the game brilliantly, with a few initial innocuous moments in the film shown via side-scroll, followed by a burst of dynamism during Mario's training montage with Princess Peach. 

It's things like this that demonstrates the respect that filmmakers Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic have for Mario. There are also plenty of Easter eggs for eagle-eyed viewers to catch and jokes that poke fun at some of the sillier parts of the game. It's clear that Horvath and Jelenic are fans of the game above all else.

Another massive part of the Super Mario history is the music composed by Koji Kondo. An instantly recognizable theme, film composer Brian Tyler, in conjunction with Kondo, incorporated the 8-bit sounds of the game with soaring orchestration to create an incredibly whimsical and sweeping score that I need a copy of ASAP.

Bringing the film together is a great ensemble. A lot was made of Pratt's vocal performance when trailers and first-look clips were dropped, and, those concerns are thankfully unfounded. While Pratt's performance is probably the least remarkable of the cast, everyone does a solid job of bringing their characters to life. Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong and Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong are all standouts, but the main event is Jack Black.

Black brings his natural humour and charisma to Bowser in a way I was not expecting in the slightest. Rather than make King Koopa into a surly and evil antagonist, Black's performance gives him depth and a playfulness that never existed in the video games and is a welcome development. And for those wondering: yes, Black does bring some musical fire to the film, culminating in an '80s-inspired rock ballad, and ode to Princess Peach simply entitled "Peaches."

So far this year a great many films have surprised audiences, like M3GAN and Dungeons & Dragons — and now The Super Mario Bros. Movie can be added to that list. The nostalgia will delight fans of the game and audiences of a certain age, kids completely unaware of Mario and Luigi's history will be entertained, and the film may even drive some curiosity in the younger crowd to seek out the old Super Mario and Donkey Kong games online. 

Finally, a film worthy of one of the great plumbers of our time. Wahoo!

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