I remember, back in the 80s, when my parents gave my siblings and I our first Nintendo gaming console. At the time, we only had one cartridge and that was the original Super Mario Bros. game. I wasn’t good at it but I kept trying anyway. My brothers were getting further and further into the game and I was stuck in the earlier levels, still making mistakes but still playing and giving it a shot. It’s that feeling that directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, with scriptwriter Matthew Fogel, wanted to portray in their animated feature film ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie.’ There are a lot of references to the various kingdoms and worlds of the game and a lot of references to the puzzles and moves that you do in all the games. And as someone who still plays Mario Kart until now, the reference to that was enjoyable to see as well.
It’s these connections to the games that makes ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ enjoyable to watch. The game is loved by so many generations that when there is a clever use of any call back to the games, it’s very much appreciated. The whole idea of the game in itself – two New York City plumbers saving a princess from a fire breathing turtle (who looks like a dragon to me) – is so out of the box that I wish it stayed that way throughout the whole movie.
In fact, as enjoyable as seeing all the game references in the movie played out in cinematic form, they even upped the ante with their portrayal of Bowser, the aforementioned fire breathing turtle. Voiced impeccably by Jack Black, Bowser’s character is so surprising to me and so left of center that I was cracking up any time he was on screen. The menacing villain who is taking down kingdom after kingdom is really just a lovesick tyrant who just wants to rule the kingdoms with Princess Peach. It’s surprising and it’s hilarious as it creates character textures for which Jack Black can make full use of his versatility.
And because that film can delve into this level of craziness that I found the overall film to feel disjointed and uneven. Because while I’m having so much fun watching Bowser and even Donkey Kong, I don’t feel as excited watching Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach. Donkey Kong and Bowser seem fit into this crazy, fun, and irreverent world but our three leads feel like they belong in a different movie. Worse, they feel like they belong in a live action film.
‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ serves as an origin story for the two Italian American brothers. So their story begins in Brooklyn and they have all the foundations of a typical hero’s story. They are looked down upon by their former boss and by their father. There is a real-world angst here that doesn’t quite fit with the craziness. It’s a little too serious for what is about to happen in the rest of the movie (and doesn’t really serve the plot in any way).
When Mario and Luigi (voiced by Chris Pratt and Charlie Day, respectively) find themselves transported to the mushroom kingdom, the brothers are separated and Mario, the more courageous and unrelenting brother, must find Luigi, the more cowardly and insecure brother, who happens to find himself transported into Bowser’s land. It’s a nice twist that instead of Princess Peach (voiced by Anna Taylor-Joy) being the damsel in distress, she teams up with Mario to stop Bowser, save the mushroom kingdom, and save Luigi.
Except there is nothing in the story that would make Princess Peach accept any help from Mario, who by all means is a stranger to their lands. And, in efforts to be progressive and feminist, they wrote Princess Peach as being very formidable. She is, afterall, a player character in later versions of the game. But by making her very capable, they removed any sense of humanity in her. She is perfect in every way. She has no character arc or growth, and worse, she’s so capable that you could do the whole movie without Mario and she could still save the mushroom kingdom on her own.
This is the disjointedness of the film. Everything related to the lead characters is flat, predictable, and too serious for a film that has mushrooms, when eaten, gives you special abilities. This film has turtles that you can step on and kick their shells to explosive effect. It’s as irreverent as they come. The groundedness that they put on Mario’s character and in the portrayal of Peach didn’t serve them well. In fact, they are the least enjoyable aspect of the film.
I was expecting to not like this movie. The trailer alone didn’t excite me but seeing it on screen and watching the hilarious antics of Jack Black as Bowser and even Seth Rogen’s portrayal of Donkey Kong made the movie for me. There were stunts that resembled the games I’ve played that put a smile on my face. There were some animated textures that were incredible to see in 3D. For a family film, it’s quite violent but it’s loud and funny and visually stunning that the kids will enjoy it and the child inside every grown up who has played Super Mario Bros will get tingling somewhere inside.
I just wish they forgo the groundedness in the future sequels (because there will be) and just go all out.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is now showing in cinemas nationwide. Buy your tickets here.