Before The Super Mario Bros. Movie came to the fore as the better motion picture, Super Mario Bros existed. It’s almost confusing to know which film is being talked about, since there’s two missing words to distinguish between the two. But for those in the know about the older work, perhaps it’s best not to. That live-action take reimagined the game as a gangster flick, and not everyone enjoyed it.
After Wreck It Ralph, fans were wondering when we’d get a motion picture that’s truly a love letter to Nintendo’s product line. The nods in this latest showed what’s possible with the cameo. The game is about a plumber saving the princess from Bowser, an evil turtle who is holding her hostage. In this take, the changes to the story are different.
The movie version (voiced by Jack Black) puts the citizens of each world into a prison, and Mario (Chris Pratt)’s brother is the latest victim. Um, what happened to honouring the game? This movie directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic for Illumination Entertainment and Nintendo set out to build a cinematic universe rather than respect the original premise. Although they stick in plenty of references to this company’s past games and Easter eggs to distract, only the hard core will know.
This movie is not all that’s cracked up to be. People complained about the casting on social media. Pratt is the next voice of Mario and because we’re not hearing a Brooklyn or Italian accent, should we really be bothered by it? That depends. Purists will be up in arms, and kids–the target audience–won’t care.
Here, I suspect Mario is born in America and his family are immigrants. That can explain why he doesn’t have a strong accent as fans hoped. He doesn’t even have a strong native Brooklyn resident, and it’s a shame. What’s presented is respecting the latter by including past talents to voice Mario’s parents (i.e. his dad) but is that enough? I say not.
Pratt acknowledges the criticism. As Mario, he even asked, “Was the accent too much?” in the commercial made to advertise the plumbing business he and his brother run. Although they don’t get any clients, they decide to take on repairing a huge city sewer main which will earn them a reputation. But that gets cut short when they suddenly get transported to the Mushroom World. There’s no reason why a magical tunnel exists. It’s as perplexing as Disney’s Enchanted, and we’re not supposed to have answers to why portals to other worlds exist.
Instead, what these two find in this realm are island worlds separated by a void, and Bowser’s flying citadel can travel to each. I don’t think this was in the games, but could be wrong since I haven’t touched the newest releases.
Jack Black is better than expected, and while I’ll forever remember him as Po (Kung Fu Panda), I’m glad he’s not a one-trick pony. When I listen carefully, his natural timbre peeks out. And the best part is that he gets to sing! Since he’s often identified as a hero, I’m finding I like this sinister side. Hopefully, he’ll consider taking on more villainous roles in other films in the future.
In contrast, Luigi (Charlie Day) is sadly underutilised. He’s not as important to act two. I wanted him to be more than that Nervous Nelly his solo outings paint him as. He doesn’t always get a personality in the early Mario games, and to see him at his best like a carnival clown in Luigi’s Mansion is more of a highlight! The atmosphere gets a very respective screen time, even though no further nods are used. And as for the ghost dog who typically accompanies him there, he might have been staying invisible.
As for the heroine, Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a stronger ruler of Mushroom World of old. I appreciate this update. She never did much in the games until Mario World expanded the lore. Here, she’s very representative of that head strong spirit.
Even the jocular Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen having fun in the role) is important, and to see the entire ape family suggests a possible solo feature. Fans know his video game introduced the plumber to the world, and here the conflict between ape and man is toned down, so they’ll team up.
The only good part of The Super Mario Bros. Movie is in how Mario Kart gets reimagined. Although I haven’t played the latest takes on this game, it’s the highlight of this film. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the light cycle race from Tron: Legacy given a Mad Max treatment. Although we’ll never get that recreated on the hand-held Nintendo Switch (it doesn’t have the chipset to render that much 3D), I was more impressed at how Illumination Entertainment has updated their technology. Despite weird storytelling directions, the World of Nintendo is alive, and as for what’s next, the post-credits sequence tells all.
3 Stars out of 5
The Super Mario Bros. Movie Final Trailer
For those curious in what cinematic adaptations of videogames are bad or good, please check out my editorial, Videogame Movies, A Look Back on the Good, Bad and The Ugly. Even ten years later, the studios have not learned their lessons.