Friday 7 April 2023

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Movie Review)

In terms of recognizable video game IP, it doesn't get much bigger than Super Mario Bros. This is why from the moment it was announced that the iconic duo would be once again gracing the big screen, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, the 1993 live-action movie had left a bad taste in many people's mouths, even as the trailers for the new one appeared to promise a far more faithful adaptation. But does the new film set a new high score for video game adaptations as a whole or is it the latest victim of the dreaded video game movie curse?

The film centers upon the titular Super Mario Bros., a pair of small-time plumbers from Brooklyn. After getting sucked down a warp pipe during a particularly tasking job, they both wind up on opposite ends of a strange, magical world. There, Mario (Chris Pratt) must not only struggle to reunite with Luigi (Charlie Day), but he must also contend with the looming threat of Bowser (Jack Black), the king of the Koopas whose mission of love and conquest could very well spell doom for the inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Since its debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Mario games have been known for their imaginative worlds and the cast of colorful creatures and characters that call those worlds home. So heading into The Super Mario Bros. Movie, I was most eager to see all of it brought to life by the talented team of artists at Illumination. And right out of the gate, the movie dazzles in a way that only the very best animated films manage to. The Mushroom Kingdom has never looked as crisp or vibrant, and that extends to its many inhabitants as well, almost making this an early lock for a Best Animated Feature Film nomination at next year's Oscars.

The same attention to detail had also gone into crafting the sound and music in the film, with many recognizable themes by Koji Kondo and others being lifted directly from the games and worked into the overall score. The film also employs all the sound cues one would expect from a Super Mario game, as well as licensed music from popular 80s hits like "Take on Me" by a-ha or Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." But by far the best song in the entire movie was a surprisingly heartfelt piano ballad called "Peaches" by Jack Black. The song channels the actor's singing and comedy chops from his time spent in Tenacious D and it had me in complete stitches all through its performance.

Regarding the voice cast, I think everyone did a more-than-adequate job in their roles. Despite my initial concerns regarding Chris Pratt voicing Mario, I found that his take on the character quickly grew on me and his lack of the stereotypical Italian accent was explained fairly early on in the film. Charlie Day was equally effective as Luigi, although he didn't get nearly as much screen time as the other actor. But once again, the true standout of the bunch was Jack Black, who succeeded in infusing Bowser with his signature humor without compromising on the goofy menace the character is known for in the games.

Speaking of the games, perhaps it is somewhat appropriate that the film had debuted over the Easter holiday since it is absolutely crammed with Easter eggs and references to the various games in the series. I lost count of how many subtle nods to things from the games I could immediately identify, from their various sound bites to all the ones hidden in plain sight. Each scene is practically brimming with so many callbacks that I suspect it will require multiple viewings or rewatches to catch them all. But the ones I did manage to catch during my initial viewing had me grinning from ear to ear.  

About the only thing I can really fault The Super Mario Bros. Movie for is its nearly breakneck pacing. The film hurtles through some of its scenes so quickly that you don't really get enough time to appreciate all of the work that went into them. And while the story itself, like the ones in the games, might also leave a lot to be desired by way of character development or its lack thereof, I still think it manages to tick all the requisite boxes while hitting all the emotional beats one might expect from what is effectively a kid's movie.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a more-than-worthy adaptation of one of gaming's biggest icons. It serves as an overall celebration of the Super Mario franchise with its many Easter eggs and top-of-the-line animation. It is clear that its filmmakers know what their target audience wants and they've gone above and beyond to deliver just that. There is no doubt that this is just the start of something potentially huge for the series though and as such, it should be counted as another win for video game adaptations as a whole.