The Super Mario Bros. Movie, by Cameron J. Czaja

Whether you’re into video games or not, one can’t deny not knowing one famous video game character that has delighted people of all ages and that character is nonother than Mario from the Super Mario Brothers video game series by Nintendo. From his red hat and blue overalls to his famous catchphrase “it’s a me, Mario!” he has provided gamers and non-gamers alike for several decades with hours of entertainment from a range of games dating back to the original Nintendo system. While I may not be a hard-core Mario fan like some people, I am indeed a geek for the famous plumber and try to get whatever Mario game that is available. While there may not be a new Mario in the near future, there is something new coming from the series, which is the animated film The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

For those who don’t recall or are still trying to forget, The Super Mario Bros. Movie isn’t the first film from the famous plumber. Thirty years ago, there was a live action Mario movie simply called Super Mario Bros. (1993), starring Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as his brother Luigi. If you haven’t seen or heard of this film then God bless you because let’s just say it was a down right terrible film. It was so bad that I first saw it when I was twelve years old back in the early 2000s, I hated it. To put this into a better perspective, I didn’t have much of critical filter on what was bad or good at that age, so when my younger self said I hated something, then it was truly awful. Fortunately, there is a new Mario Brothers film, animated this time, and looks and feels like the video game series. There is, however, one major red flag that I’m getting from this film which is the studio making this video game adaptation: Illumination.

If, for some reason, the name Illumination doesn’t ring a bell, it’s the animation company that made the Despicable Me series, including the spinoff Minions films, The Secret Life of Pets series, the Singseries, and the two Dr. Seuss’ movies The Lorax (2012) and The Grinch (2018). These last two I covered for The Legionnaire. If you read my reviews for them, then you know that I don’t favor those movies, and my opinion pretty much is the same when it comes to anything else by Illumination, with the exception of a few. Their last entry, Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) was one that made me nervous about what was to come next because it was probably the worst animated film that I had seen in theaters in 2022. Knowing that The Super Mario Bros. Movie was that next gave me (as I said earlier) some major red flags. Was this a decent from Illumination? As usual, let’s find out. 

In this video game adaptation, Bowser (voiced by Jack Black), King of the Koopas, attacks an ice palace with his army, kidnaps The Penguin King (voiced by Khary Payton) and his people, and steals a Super Star which holds incredible power. Bowser plans to use it to take over the Mushroom Kingdom and other parts of this world. He also intends to marry Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy), leader of the Mushroom Kingdom. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, two brothers Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day), quit their old job and start a plumbing business, which doesn’t go well at first. One night while watching the news, the two brothers learn about a huge manhole leak and decide to fix it themselves. While trying to get to an important valve, they accidently stumble into a large underground area, which has the boys trying to find a way out. Just as they are making progress, Luigi finds a large green pipe and soon disappears. This leads the confused Mario to go into the pipe himself, which then finds himself being warped into it and into a different world. In transit, Mario sees Luigi as they are both hurling through the air on a current and get separated again, going through different pipes. Mario ends up in the Mushroom Kingdom where he meets Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and explains his current situation to him. Toad then agrees to help his new friend by taking him the princess who may provide further assistance. Meanwhile, Luigi ends up in the Dark Lands, and is soon captured by Bowser and his minions. Elsewhere, Mario and Toad meet up with Princess Peach, and they explain his situation. Knowing that Bowser is coming towards the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Peach announces to her council that she plans on visiting the Jungle Kingdom to recruit the gorilla army. Mario asks if he can tagalong, but the Princess tests him. To see if he is capable of the journey ahead, she puts him on an obstacle course, which looks like a level from the games. After a brief montage, Mario gets the hang of the mechanics of the world that he’s still foreign to and soon him, Princess Peach, and Toad head off to the Jungle Kingdom lead by King Cranky Kong (voiced by Fred Armisen), along with his son Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen), so they can ask for said army to stop Bowser, while at the same time saving Luigi. 

So, before I continue on with the review, I’ll address this: The Super Mario Bros. Movie is far superior than the live action film released thirty years ago and so far my favorite Illumination entry to date. Given my earlier thoughts about the company, it is not difficult to imagine such an opinion. As for the film itself, let’s just say that I came out it with two different viewpoints. If The Super Mario Bros. Movie was a completely original film that isn’t based off of a video game, I would find this passable, meaning it was entertaining but all over the place. However, because it’s based off of a famous property that I’m well accustomed to, I will say that I had a lot of fun with this movie, more so than I should. It is not, however, flawless, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

What I appreciated the most about this video game adaptation, which also surprised me, was the attention to detail Illumination put into The Super Mario Bros. Movie, making this feel something Nintendo would have made if they made films. It’s worth noting that Nintendo did play a huge role in the production, which was a relief for me when I saw the Nintendo logo before the movie started. In fact, I actually forgot that Illumination was the one that made this film. The only time I knew while watching that it was made by Illumination was the logo and a minion (ugh) shown at the beginning. I feel like I’m harping too much on the relief I experienced given my worries. So, with that aside, let me go into detail what I enjoyed the most about this film.

Before I go any further, I do want to address the caveat that, if you have little to no knowledge of the Mario franchise, then The Super Mario Bros. Movie may not be for you. I say this because, as a fan, there were a ton of easter eggs and references scattered through the game that had me glued to the screen. From the set design to the iconic sounds, this video game adaptation was made with the intent to please the fans. As soon as Mario and Luigi enter through the warp pipe, my critical thought process took a brief pause and I enjoyed the colors and familiar characters that I have grown accustomed to throughout the years of playing the Mario games. What also helped my enjoyment watching it, was how conditioned I was to the environment. Because I have played a good number of Mario games over the years, I already knew that this was going to be a bit over the top and cartoonish, which normally would be a dealbreaker for me when it comes to big budget animated films. The reason it worked for me is because the Mario franchise is already a crazy and exaggerated series. Thus, if it didn’t have that tone in the film, then I would’ve been disappointed. I will say that there were no traces of crude humor in the form of fart jokes and/or belches. There is some slapstick humor here and there, but no toilet humor just for the sake of it, which was a huge relief. 

Viewing this through a Catholic perspective, the one character that I was drawn to the most was the main protagonist himself, Mario. Throughout the film, he comes across as a selfless person. His primary goal is saving Luigi from King Bowser, but he comes to see it as something beyond his family. To this end, he even goes toe to toe with various opponents including Donkey Kong and Bowser himself. No matter trials he faces, he never gives up and always pushes forward to become the hero that we all know and love from the games. Heroism and never giving up no matter the cost has always been one of my favorite traits of Christianity, and watching this during Holy Week may have helped me appreciate this film even more, mostly because I was thinking about the Passion earlier that week and my favorite hero Jesus Christ.    

Is The Super Mario Bros. Movie perfect? It’s not, but despite that, I still had a lot of fun with it. I can definitely see some not enjoying it, though mainly because it’s a film made mostly for fans and not offering enough backstory and development for nonfans. Also, I can see those individuals who don’t play the games viewing this as just another Illumination film, filled with bright colors and wacky characters that don’t provide the meaningful substance compared to groundbreaking animated films from better studios. Still, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is one I can definitely see myself viewing again on the big screen though this time with other people. Even a few days after watching it, it has been living rent free in my mind in the best way possible. When a movie has that effect, then I know it’ll be something I’ll watch again. The only problem is finding the time to see it again because of the number of films on my list to watch. But until then, I will most likely be playing a Mario game that I have for my Nintendo Switch while I wait to return to the Mushroom Kingdom on the silver screen.


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