- Hamish Hart
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) Review
ILLUMINATION Studios have been given the arduous task of adapting, arguably, the most beloved video game franchise, Super Mario, onto the big screen. Despite their financial success, the animation studio has fell flat in terms of film quality in recent years, but with Nintendo reportedly being heavily involved with the production of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, have the portly plumbers redeemed themselves after the infamous 1993 live action version of the same name?
Brothers Mario Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi Mario (Charlie Day) are struggling to get their newly-founded plumbing business off the ground, coming off as jokes in the eyes of their family. But when the two discover a mysterious portal during a routine job, they are split apart and transported to a land known as the Mushroom Kingdom. With the help of the kingdom's Princess Peach (Anya-Taylor Joy), Mario must learn to become a hero to the local denizens and save his brother from the infamous Bowser (Jack Black) before he destroys everything.
Within its first week of release, The Super Mario Bros. Movie has already broken records by becoming the highest-grossing video game movie of all time and is on track to earn over $400 million in worldwide box office gross (a.o. 12/4/23). These numbers speak to the excitement audiences young and old had for this animated wonder despite the criticisms received prior to its release regarding the controversial voice cast and the studio's inconsistent track record prior. Needless to say these quarrels didn't stop people from seeing the film, and while critics have slandered this video game movie for catering to fans, I'm happy to report there was plenty of fun to be had with the brothers Mario.
The movie feels like a tutorial level, endlessly holding your hand until the inevitable yet satisfying conclusion, but just like these aforementioned teaching mechanisms, The Super Mario Bros. Movie still stands on its own for fans and newcomers alike. Illumination balances their signature minions humour alongside constant references to the video game phenomenon in a manner which never feel counteractive. There are moments later in the movie where certain nods to the franchise begin to appear a bit too often, particularly with Mario's "Mamma Mia", but these problems are few and far between.
For what seemed like years was the continuous running joke on the internet was the voice cast chosen for this cinematic adaption, most notably Chris Pratt as Mario. If I'm being honest, the criticisms were for the most part justified as it seemed bafflingly not to have Charles Martinet reprise his career-long role as Mario despite being billed for the movie. But against all odds, Pratt proved to be absolutely fine in his role, coming across much more natural and comfortable when compared to the initial trailers. Charlie Day as Luigi and Anya-Taylor Joy as Peach also performed well -- even though Day just felt like he was doing his own voice rather than an actual performance, resulting in a role that was hard to separate from one another. But there is one performance everybody is talking about from the movie: Jack Black as Bowser. Despite moments where Black was similarly just being himself, his portrayal as King of the Koopas was as devilish as it was entertaining, stealing every single scene he appeared in. His plan of destruction is introduced as generic and all-encompassing, but is soon revealed to be much more charming and downright funny; a role perfectly suited for one-halve of Tenacious D.
I could sit here and write about how The Super Mario Bros. Movie isn't a great movie, containing minimal character development and a predictable story, but not every film needs to be like this; it's okay for a movie to exist for the simple reason of being fun. Those familiar with the franchise will enjoy the constant references and easter eggs, while casual fans will be enthralled by the surprisingly-consistent humour and well-directed action sequences. All these positives come together to create an animated wonder that, much like the games, is easy to pick up and enjoy for veterans and newcomers alike.