Gamers throughout all generations have had their specific Super Mario moment. If you played the original Super Mario on NES, there’s that weird negative zone spot if you do a backward jump in the second level. Maybe you painstakingly stayed up all night to get every star in Super Mario 64 as I did or tried to time that Mario Kart 64 rainbow road jump. The Mario franchise remains an enduring video game dom that continually reinvents itself with every system incarnation. As for the big and small screens, there was the brief Super Mario Bros. Super Show! in 1989 and, yes, the 1993 live-action adaptation of Super Mario Bros.
Hollywood loves potential IP they can expand with multiple projects – thus, it was only a matter of time before your favorite world-saving plumbers received another big-screen installment. The Super Mario Bros. Movie knows what you are here for – at least from a visual sense. Co-directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, conjoined with Illumation’s animation style, go for big, gorgeous worlds that are a whos who of Mario easter eggs.
You might notice a Punch-Out pizza place from the corner of your eye. At one point, Mario sits down and plays an instance of Kid Icarus on a semi-NES game system. Composer Brian Tyler combines all the Koji Kondo classic Mario game songs into a fantastic score. There is so much lore to draw from. The film parses it out, so you never get bored cracking a smile and spotting things. When it comes to the Super Mario Bros. story, that’s where things start to feel thin.
At the center, Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and his often frightened brother Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) want to make something of their struggling plumbing business. Their family makes fun of them at the dinner table. Well, mostly Mario – he gets blamed for dragging his brother down. However, a massive flood in Brooklyn due to a water main break gives the duo a chance to save the day with their know-how. While doing this, they stumble upon a green pipe and accidentally get transported into another dimension. The brothers get separated – Mario falls into Mushroom Kingdom, and Luigi lands in the Darklands, where Bowser (voiced by Jack Black) reigns supreme.
There you have the crux of the central plot that’s bookended by a theme of the brothers being able to survive anything as long as they stick together. The problem is they are separated for so long, the heartfelt message doesn’t feel as powerful as it could in the third act. For the most part, Luigi is left to walk in many spooky setpieces akin to the paranormal Luigi’s Mansion video games. Mario gets a lot of hero passage time meeting his adventure companion Toad (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and eventually Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy).
Regarding the antagonist, Bowser entirely takes on the spirit of Black – the big bad turtle who possesses a Super Star. Does he want to take over the Mushroom Kingdom for himself and his empire? Well, kind of. It’s all to gain the eye of Peach, whom he has a crush on. At specific points during the film, Bowser breaks into piano ballots and declares his love for her in funny Tenacious D fashion.
Indeed, the appearance of a red hat plumber will incur some jealousy within him. As far as set pieces, Super Mario Bros. has plenty – from the side scroll camera views, a training montage with classic Mario platforms basics, and a lot of power-ups from Marios 1-3 (yup. even the Raccoon suit). Did we mention Mario hates eating mushrooms?
When the good guys seek help from Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogan) and go on a high-speed Mario Kart chase on Rainbow Road, you already know what the film has to offer you. You can equate The Super Mario Bros. film as going down memory lane through old trinkets of the past you once beloved or an old theme park you went to as a kid. You’ll ride some of the rollercoasters again, but the whole experience doesn’t fully come together like it did when you were younger.