It’s no secret that Mario is one of the world’s most recognizable pulp culture icons. This was true even 30 years ago when Nintendo launched a live-action version of The Mario Bros. in theaters. 1993’s The Mario Bros. was a disaster. The title saw hate from fans and critics alike, so much so that fans weren’t sure if the iconic plumbers would ever get another chance at the silver screen.
That all changed in 2021 when Nintendo announced an animated feature, The Super Mario Bros. Movie. I’ll admit that the idea was enticing, especially after the success of other on-screen adaptations like Sonic the Hedgehog. Once Shigeru Miyamoto shared that Illumination was at the helm, the team behind the Minions, that excitement soon gave way to skepticism.
Related: Fire Emblem Engage Review: Engaging in Almost Every Way
It was my personal nightmare. How could the studio behind my most hated animated film possibly capture the tone, humor, and world of gaming’s most iconic mascot? Not only would they battle the expectations of a group of fans with up to 40 years of nostalgia, but they’d need to overcome the stigma behind one of Hollywood’s most obnoxious animated icons. Pair that with Chris Pratt as the voice behind this movie’s lead, and I’d given up most hope that this would be anything short of a disaster.
How could Illumination possibly surmount these concerns? By hiring a passionate team that knows their shit. The Super Mario Bros Movie is a film created by fans for fans. Illumination handcrafted every sight, sound, and setting to recapture the magic of playing Nintendo’s unforgettable franchise. No matter what era of Mario you grew up with, you’ll feel like a little kid again, watching with a silly grin on your face from start to finish.
World 1-1: Start!
Mario and Luigi, two plumbers from Brooklyn, are down on their luck and looking for their big break. That comes to them when they find a mysterious pipe during a flood in New York, only to find themselves warped to another world. Along the way, their paths diverge and send them on separate adventures.
Luigi falls into Bowser’s hellish domain, while Mario ends up in the cozy Mushroom Kingdom. From there, it’s a journey for Mario to find his brother and foil Bowser’s evil plans. The story for the Mario Bros. movie is simple, much like its source material.
This movie knows exactly what it’s trying to be from the moment it starts. It’s a film that brings Nintendo’s flagship franchise to life. It’s nothing revolutionary, and it doesn’t need to be. The Mario movie focuses on capturing the fun and adventure of playing the games, traveling to new worlds, and meeting iconic allies along the way.
Each world and character is as simple as the games present them to be. For the Mario Movie, that works well. If you hold fond memories of Mario, Luigi, Peach, Donkey Kong, or any of their friends, it’ll be hard not to feel right at home on this otherworldly excursion.
Find Your Voice, Mario Bros.
Despite the Mario Bros being around for nearly 40 years, the dynamic duo rarely talk in their games. Aside from the occasional ‘wahoo’ or ‘oh yeah,’ you’ll rarely hear the characters speak out in the Mario games. That proposed an interesting challenge for those casting the voice actors for Mario’s animated outing. One that could ruin the film if handled poorly. I’m happy to report that isn’t the case.
Every primary cast member, including Chris Pratt, carries their weight in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. While some voice actors are better than others, no one performance drags the movie down.
Everyone brings something different to the table here that gives their character personality. For Chris Pratt, it’s his stunning consistency from start to finish. He may not have the most remarkable portrayal, but he’s the only cast member that doesn’t slip out of character once.
Charlie Day perfectly captures Luigi’s sniveling, cowardly, and nervous demeanor. Keegan-Michael Key is unrecognizable as Toad, nailing his scratchy voice, and Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a composed and regal Peach.
The supporting cast is also excellent, with characters like Kamek, Luma, and the Penguin King highlighting the scenes they inhabit.
The biggest standout in the cast, however, is Jack Black, who truly owns the role of this legendary Mario villain. Whether he’s torching an icy kingdom or rocking a musical number, Jack Black’s Bowser is the Superstar of each scene he’s in. I can’t think of anyone who could come close to this portrayal, and I’m sure he’ll only improve as time goes on. It shows how powerful a veteran voice actor can be when put in the proper role.
The weakest performance of the cast is Seth Rogen’s. While the voice is passable, this actor sounds no different than in any other project. It works very well for Donkey Kong, but it would have been nice to get a bit of a change-up for this role. It was nice to hear Rogen’s trademark laugh from DK’s big burly body, though.
My Kingdom for a Callback
While it may not have the most revolutionary plot, it is loaded from top to bottom with moments that honor the games and their legacy. The Super Mario Bros. Movie has the most easter eggs and references to its source material in any movie I’ve seen. The sheer amount of nods to the franchise and its history is overwhelming.
The team at Illumination hired a group of passionate animators and writers to fill this world to the brim. For example, Mario’s first walk through the Mushroom Kingdom holds over 100 easter eggs. I’m still trying to track them down with a clip at the ready.
This isn’t an isolated incident, though. Each and every scene of the film is like this. Whether it’s a trip through Rainbow Road or an obstacle course at Peach’s Castle, there are references from the entire Mario legacy, from Donkey Kong to Super Mario Odyssey. It shows a level of care that no other Illumination movie has. One that gives this movie a charm unlike anything else in their animated library.
Even without the easter eggs, moments like a tense kart chase on an ethereal trail are exciting and unforgettable. The team captured the fun and frantic nature of Mario’s games here. With so much detail in their animation, it’s hard, if not impossible, the knock the film for its gorgeous visuals.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie sets the gold standard for animation in on-screen video-game adaptations. With all we’ve seen so far, I can’t wait to see what Nintendo and Illumination do next with this universe and its properties. The thought of us getting a Zelda movie isn’t just a pipe dream anymore, and that has me very excited.
While the Mario movie’s visuals and voice acting deliver, the soundtrack elevates the experience even further. The movie’s composer, Brian Tyler, remixes tracks from Koji Kondo’s original sets to great effect in this adaptation. What’s even more impressive than Tyler’s skill is his consistency. Every single song Tyler revamps retains the soul of its original piece but gains a fresh feel.
My favorite song in the set, “Level Complete,” revamps and samples songs from over 30 years of games in just over two minutes and makes it look easy. Without Tyler, the movie wouldn’t have the same magic, and he showcases a skill I appreciate more with each trip through the list.
It’s not only Tyler putting in the work for the music in this film, though. Several skillful songwriters are on deck throughout this adventure in the Mushroom Kingdom. Ali Dee graces us with the Super Mario Bros. Plumbing Commercial I’ve listened to more times than I care to admit. This reference and hundreds of others show that all team members were passionate about this project, the audio department included.
The standout in the OST and the song I expect to get the most replays is the Bowser single: Peaches. Jack Black’s single is ridiculous in all the right ways. I found myself laughing like I was six watching this scene, and I can’t believe how well it works with the movie’s overall feel. There’s not a single miss among the music created for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and the soundtrack is just short of perfection.
What holds the soundtrack back is the puzzling inclusion of licensed music. Hearing “Take On Me” play while Mario rides around DK’s race track or listening to “Holding out for a Hero” during Peach’s platforming plot point doesn’t work here. It actively removed me from the experience and had me scratching my head. After doing a little digging, I found that Illumination pulled songs Brian Tyler created for specific scenes to put 80s tracks in the film.
This decision was one of the only points in the film that nods to Illumination’s previous works. One of my least favorite traits of this studio is their obsession with putting licensed tracks in their movies and milking them to death.
That may work for Minions and Despicable Me, but it’s obnoxious and out of place in a Mario movie, especially when you have so many iconic songs from the series at your disposal. Someone higher up made this choice to try and appeal to a broader audience. Mario has one of the most significant followings on the planet. Why aren’t we just focusing on that fanbase?
There are hundreds of incredible tracks in Nintendo’s library, and with a master composer like Brian Tyler to remix them, it feels like this was a wasted opportunity. Hopefully, in the sequel, Illumination will stick to remixing classic songs.
Not All Peaches and Mushrooms
While most of the Mario Movie is an excellent ride, a few missteps keep it from being even better. Of course, there is the soundtrack, as mentioned earlier, woes, but there are a few issues outside of poorly placed 80s tunes.
My biggest issue with the film is its underuse of some of its best characters. Luigi, for example, spends two-thirds of the movie sitting in a cage, waiting for Mario to show up. As my favorite Mario brother, it was disappointing to see so little of him this time, especially with a phenomenal performance from Charlie Day when he was on screen.
It would have been nice to see Luigi run around the badlands a bit longer, having his own adventure akin to Luigi’s Mansion. The outcome could still be the same, but making him seem incapable of doing anything until the film’s end felt unnecessary.
It isn’t just Luigi, either. Toad is almost nonexistent in the film’s second half, only popping up for the occasional joke. It feels like this little helper was forgotten once we got to the Kong Kingdom, and that’s a shame. Hopefully, these two sidekicks will get a chance to shine like the show’s star in the sequel. Until then, I’ll lament what little time my favorites got to show their stuff.
Along with underutilized characters, the Super Mario Bros. Movie has a pacing problem. The third act of the movie moves at a breakneck pace. We could’ve used another 20 minutes to break down the same events in more detail.
I’m not talking more character depth or heartfelt moments because that’s not what Mario fans want. It would’ve been nice to take a minute and explore the world’s worth of content we flew by in less than three minutes. Give us more time with Mario, Donkey Kong, and Luigi using the power-ups and beating baddies next time!
It’s also worth noting that Nintendo forgot to credit several artists in the movie, including the composer of the original DK rap, Grant Kirkhope. It won’t hamper your enjoyment of the film, but it’s very odd and sloppy for a studio of this caliber to fail and respect the original creators.
Mario Meets the Clueless Critics
You’ve undoubtedly noticed that critics and viewers disagree with this title if you checked review aggregate sites before your trip to see Mario in theaters.
After seeing the film, I can say this is a classic case of critics not understanding the source material. Many of those reviewing the movie don’t understand Mario, know the premise of the games, or why it’s become so popular.
My favorite pan of the film so far is the lack of plot twists being an issue. Plot twists? In a Mario movie? Really? To each their own, but I don’t think many were begging for plot twists in Mario’s first faithful adaptation on the Silver Screen.
Needless to say that many of these reviews aren’t worth putting much stock in, especially when they complain about the movie being “too cute at times.” Some of these takes are brain-rotting in their attempts to be edgy. There’s nothing wrong with a movie that aims to be simple and fun. Not every animated film needs to mimic the Pixar formula, as ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse’ proved in 2018.
The Super Mario Bros. movie is a terrific animated adaptation of Nintendo’s mascot. Anyone with even passing knowledge of the Mario Bros. should love their time with this Illumination movie. Rife with references, callbacks, and excellent setpieces, there’s plenty to love for players from any period of Mario’s nearly 40-year history. It may not have the most in-depth plot or revolutionary storytelling, but that won’t stop most from having a blast. This is a love letter to fans of the franchise created by those with a passion for the games.
|A Loving recreation of the Mario franchise and characters||Inconsistent pacing|
|Illumination’s best animation yet||Several underused characters|
|Brian Tyler’s vibrant soundtrack||Licensed music is offputting|
|Strong voice performances from most of the cast||Forgetting to credit artists|
For more popular game and movie reviews, please stick with us at Press SPACE to Jump!