"The Super Mario Bros. Movie" Skates By On Charm (But Not Much Else)

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Special Screening Of Universal Pictures' "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" - Arrivals
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 01: Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Charlie Day attend the Special Screening Of Universal Pictures' "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" held at Regal LA Live on April 01, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
"The Super Mario Bros. Movie" delivers on nostalgic feels, but stumbles as a cohesive narrative.

The character of Mario's storied history has spanned over 200 video games, several animated adaptations, myriad comics, and now a trio of feature films. Since his creation in 1981 by legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, a gaming figure hasn't been as recognizable as the red overall-wearing plumber. Like characters such as Superman and Mickey Mouse, Mario is part of the cultural zeitgeist due to the sheer volume of media output featuring his likeness and his innate charisma. With The Super Mario Bros Movie, directed by filmmaking duo Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (Teen Titans Go! To the Movies), the omnipresence of the titular turtle-stomping elder brother continues to grow, for better and worse.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie, produced by amination powerhouse Illumination (Minions, The Secret Life of Pets), manages to distill over forty years of pop culture into a tight ninety-two-minute run time. This truncation sacrifices any meaningful storytelling to please the broadest of audiences. The film's plot centers around a pair of scrappy Italian American plumbers struggling to make ends meet in modern-day Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the villainous Bowser (Jack Black) is ravaging through a fantastical realm to court Princess Peach (Anna Taylor-Joy). After a botched job back on Earth, Mario and Luigi (voiced by Chris Pratt and Charlie Day, respectively) find themselves entangled in the conflict.

"Super Mario Bros" Was All Vibes; No Filler

The soon-to-be super brothers are separated early in the film, leaving Luigi stranded in the Dark Lands. Mario trains to become a hero to help Peach defeat Bowser, save her Mushroom Kingdom, and reunite with his brother. It's all pretty textbook stuff. There isn't going to be much in the way of shock and awe here. The Super Mario Bros Movie might be rote and simplistic, but where it lacks creative storytelling, it more than excels in charm and wit.

The film appeals to fans no matter when they may have fallen in love with these characters. Sadly, this appeal is often akin to rattling keys at an infant. You can be a 10-year-old who brags about the number of moons they have acquired in Super Mario Odyssey. Or rather, an aging millennial who knows every word of "The Mario Rap" from the 1989 animated series The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! The film provides something here for everyone.

Myriad callbacks aside, a few sequences are clever from both a narrative and visual standpoint. Illumination’s soft-edged animation style lends itself well to the plush visuals of Mario’s world (both the grounded and fantastical). The film takes moments to illustrate how the once 2D environments of Mario and Luigi would play out in the real world to houmous effect. There are wonderful creative side-scrolling cartoon gags employed that are fast-paced and beautifully rendered. Yet, some viewers well-versed in the franchise may find these segments a bit grating or downright silly…even if that’s the point.

Introducing The Cast

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 01: Chris Pratt attends special screening of Universal Pictures' "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" at Regal LA Live on April 01, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/FilmMagic)

The voice cast here is mostly solid. Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) as the titular brothers are charming, if not terribly inspired. Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele, Schmigadoon!) is almost unrecognizable as the pint-sized hero Toad. Additionally, Seth Rogan (Pineapple Express, This is the End) is infectiously hilarious as Donkey Kong. The only weak link is Anna Taylor-Joy (The Queen's Gambit, The Menu) as Princess Peach. She comes off as disinterested and somewhat bland, which is a huge disappointment considering her immense talent and captivation as an on-screen presence.

Khary Payton & Jack Black Steal The Show

Jack Black (School of Rock) as Bowser is the biggest standout in the voice cast, who gets to flex his vocal range by growling through insane dialogue. There are even a couple of musical numbers that might take some fans out of the film but will delight most movie-goers. The other vocal highlight is Khary Payton (The Walking Dead) as the adorable Penguin King. There’s something magical about Payton’s stern timbre coming out of the mouth (beak?) of an adorable blue flightless bird. It is immensely charming and magnetic…but when is Payton’s presence not charming and magnetic?

Ultimately, The Super Mario Bros. Movie manages to be entertaining despite not being terribly engaging. There isn’t a lot of depth here. The film relies mostly on nostalgia and pretense from audience members of all ages. Casting such a wide net makes it a great time for kids and a sweet, albeit vapid, experience for more discerning fans. It’s hard to call this one a wash, but it is far from being a benchmark for video game adaptations. It suffers from the same rudimentary trappings as films like Uncharted and Sonic the Hedgehog, which came before. However, if you can look past the simplicity of the film’s narrative and predictable plotting, you might just find yourself “h-hooked on the brothers.”

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