Movies based on video games are a pretty mixed bag, and the list leans pretty heavily toward “just play the game instead.” Super Mario Bros. comes to theaters in a pretty interesting position: they’re a 35-year-old franchise that is still consistently pumping out game content. Parents who grew up playing the game on their NES can anticipate the film just as much as kids who are playing the updated version on their Switch.
There is, of course, a gigantic elephant in the room. A live-action film version was already made in 1993. Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper couldn’t save the movie from becoming a critical and commercial flop. The basic criticism seemed to focus on the film’s style over substance. While the acting and production were praised, the lack of a narrative focus ultimately crushed the film.
Fast forward to the present day, and we have an Illumination-produced animated entry into the franchise that appears focused on keeping things as simple and fun as possible. Mario (Chris Pratt) is trying to save Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) – who can rescue herself, thank you very much – and the Mushroom Kingdom from a lovesick Bowser (Jack Black.) And that’s pretty much it. We have a bit of a story about the Mario Bros.’ struggling plumbing business, which is the basic setup for how they land in the fantasy kingdoms where the majority of the film takes place. That’s it.
What Works In The Super Mario Bros. Movie
The Super Mario Bros. Movie isn’t worried about criticisms of fan service. It’s 100% fan service and owns it. It’s packed to the brim with Easter eggs from various Nintendo video games. It’s unabashedly silly and goofy, and there’s not a single moment where the film takes itself too seriously.
The soundtrack was delightful, featuring everything from AC/DC to A-Ha, while the score leaned heavily on the classic music from the video games. This created a wonderful sense of nostalgia while watching the film.
When it comes to the voice actors, no one delivered more than Jack Black as Bowser. He brought an unexpected depth to the previously one-dimensional character and provided some of the best laughs in the film.
What Doesn’t Work In The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, along with screenwriter Matthew Fogel kept the story extremely simple. Too simple. At times it felt like watching someone else play a video game. This results in a movie that feels like a kiddie flick rather than one for the whole family.
While I don’t have strong feelings about the accents of the main characters – or lack thereof – the distraction from Chris Pratt’s casting left me paying far too much attention to his voice in the film. In the end, he added little more than controversy to the movie.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is fun and nostalgic, but it also leaves you wishing the filmmakers had trusted audiences and themselves enough to deliver a better-developed narrative that would have entertained all ages.
About The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Rating: PG (Action and Mild Violence)
Runtime: 1h 32m
With help from Princess Peach, Mario gets ready to square off against the all-powerful Bowser to stop his plans from conquering the world.