The Super Mario Bros. series is the flagship of Nintendo and of video games as a whole. Since bursting onto the scene in 1981, the Mario franchise has gone on to become the best-selling video game franchise of all time with over 800 million units sold.
Since first exploring the Mushroom Kingdom in the 80s players have dreamed of what it would be like to experience a Mario movie. There have been cartoons, comic books, and a multitude of media exploring the adventures of Mario, Luigi and friends. However, the world of film had been strangely just out of reach for fans.
In 1993 Hollywood got their first bite at the Mario Bros. franchise. This resulted in a disastrous adaptation. The creators opted for a live-action interpretation to fit into the gritty style that was popular at the time. Nintendo had almost no creative involvement so there was no voice to protect the critical elements of the Mario Bros. universe. These factors culminated resulting in something that fans only barely recognized. And ultimately failed to ignite their imaginations.
After the failure of the 1993 film, the Mario Bros. series only grew bigger and better seeing the universe expanded with new worlds, adventures, and characters. As the franchise continued to grow more and more fans joined the fold. Mario paved the way for 3D games, and fans were awestruck at the world of possibilities for Mario and company. Voice acting and cutscenes in games only fed the flames of the primal fandom dream of a Super Mario Bros. movie.
Fast-forward 30 years and we arrive at today. The Super Mario Bros. movie by Nintendo Pictures and Illumination was released in theaters last week and it has been a rousing success. Becoming, not only the highest-grossing video game adaptation of all time, but the highest-grossing animated film of all time in its opening weekend. It has earned over $1 billion globally.
Mario fandom is ecstatic, we are eating good with a real-deal Super Mario Bros. film. So, how does the film measure up? Here are my irrelevant thoughts and feelings on the Super Mario Bros. Movie.
First a little on my history with Mario. I am a lifelong fan, I’ve played every game in the Super Mario series, as well as the vast majority of the spin-offs. I have watched the 1993 film multiple times, watched the Super Mario Bros. Super Show and even the anime OAV from the 80s. So, I am a fairly well-versed on the world of Super Mario Bros. and went into the film with strong understanding of everything Mario. I went into the film with high expectations after watching the trailers. I was a little iffy on the Hollywood voice picks but those worries were set aside as I saw more trailers.
Let’s start with the voices. The movie is well-cast and the performances are good. Chris Pratt does a good job as Mario. Coming from the games, I wouldn’t have minded if Charles Martinet had voiced Mario and Luigi for the entire film. However, I understand the reasons for not using the game voices. Same goes for the reasons for not going with a heavy Italian accent for the Bros. Chris plays well to Mario’s sense of wonder, optimism, and brave determination even pulling off a few really Mario-esque lines from the games that sound close to Martinet. His voice never took me out of the movie while I was watching, it always felt like I was watching Mario on his adventure.
The same mostly goes for Charlie Day’s performance as Luigi. Charlie does a good job of capturing Luigi’s fear and uncertainty. However, during the film I heard a lot more of Charlie Day in Luigi than I did Chris Pratt in Mario. It wasn’t enough to take me out of the film, but it was noticeable.
Anya Taylor-Joy gives a solid performance as Princess Peach. The creative vision for the movie demanded some of the over-the-top whimsy in Peaches’ voice be sacrificed, like with Mario and Luigi. They cut the airy feminine nature to Peach’s voice as well as bringing down a few octaves, but it’s still a good performance as Peach. Jack Black may be the perfect Hollywood casting choice for Bowser. The creative team wanted to lean into Bowser’s character, and Jack Black with his bombastic enthusiasm brought an A+ performance as the king of the Koopas. Jack Black becomes Bowser, and it is a joy to behold.
Keegan Michael Key gives an unexpectedly good performance as Toad. He delivers a Toad that is lower key than the frantically loud Toad voice we all know, but it works for the film and still retains some of the Toad energy from the games. Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong is arguably the weakest of the main cast voices. Before the film’s release Seth Rogan said that he would not do a voice for Donkey Kong, it would just be his natural voice. This is good because Seth’s natural voice is decently fitting Donkey Kong, and it’s bad because all you hear is Seth Rogan. Viewers that have watched a lot of Seth Rogan films will likely only hear him, and it overcasts the character of Donkey Kong a bit. The voices for the other characters are all decent and round out the movie well. Kevin Michael Richardson does an amazing job as Kamek, and Charles Martinet cameos several times in characters that pay tribute to his role as Mario.
The visuals for this movie are absolutely outstanding. Nintendo and Illumination create a visual smorgasbord of immaculate recreations of the Mario Bros. world and characters. Mario and company look like they stepped straight out of the games with only the most minute of visual tweaks that only serve to help the characters. My only wish is that we got to see more environments for longer. Visually, the movie is near-perfect and sets a new high mark for computer animation.
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Now let’s talk about the plot. I found the plot to be very good. Anyone that has played the Super Mario series knows that the structure of the story is straightforward. A bad guy kidnapped someone, or otherwise causes problems and it is up to Mario and his friends to save the kidnapped and or fix the problem. Within that simple structure, the creative teams have been able to craft fun and engaging story elements even as they are secondary to the game play experience. The various spin-off games have experimented and ventured into countless story elements.
Going into a Super Mario Bros. movie, a story fitting the timeless structure of the basic Mario story is the best. The movie flips the story a little bit with Luigi being the one captured by Bowser and Mario going on a quest to save his brother. Fans won’t mind this twist as it mirrors stories done in games like Luigi’s Mansion, Mario is Missing, and Super Princess Peach where one or both brothers were kidnapped. But, the simplicity of the movie plot highlights the elements of brotherly love, bravery, and tenacity in the face of insurmountable challenges.
Mario and Luigi are brothers that live in Brooklyn. They are risking it all on their dream of opening their own plumbing business after quitting working for the previous employer Spike. The brothers are struggling to find their place and make a name for themselves. Their family doubts they will succeed in this endeavor, and it makes them feel like failures, especially Mario as the older brother who always looks out for Luigi. Mario decides to take on a job that could save the city of Brooklyn but it ends up with the brothers being separated and warped to the Mushroom Kingdom where Luigi is taken by Bowser.
This opening section does a great job at establishing the relationship between Mario and Luigi. The viewer gets a sense of how important they are to each other, and how much they love each other. It also establishes their desire to do good for others and be recognized for their efforts, from their naming their business “Super Mario Bros. Plumbing” to the risky decision that ended up transporting them to the mushroom kingdom. The brothers want to be heroes and prove themselves. The opening scene is punctuated with Nintendo easter eggs that fans will be delighted to see, as well as a scene with Mario and Luigi platforming through the city on the way to a job. It sets up the adventure to come nicely.
After Mario arrives in the mushroom kingdom, he meets Toad and is taken to meet Peach. The meeting between Mario and Peach sets the tone for their relationship throughout the movie. The romance between Mario and Peach is subtle and punctuated by humor.
Peach leads Mario to a training course and says he has to beat it for her to let him come with her to stop Bowser. This leads to another platforming sequence where Mario fails the course repeatedly. Some viewers might find it off-putting, but this scene serves two purposes. It lets the viewers that are familiar with Mario games relive that experience of repeatedly dying as they play through a tough platforming level. It immerses them in the Mario platforming experience while watching the movie. The second purpose the scene serves is to further establish Mario’s tenacity, he never gives up.
Around this time we get a nice Bowser scene that is a real show-stealer with hilarious interactions between the Koopa King and his Magikoopa Henchman Kamek. The scene does an excellent job of establishing Mario and Bowser as foes and expands on Bowser’s reasoning for his actions which are perfectly in line with his character from the games.
The next segment has Mario face off against Donkey Kong for the mushroom kingdom to gain the alliance of the Kong Kingdom. This plays out as a continuation of the platforming obstacle course with Mario failing, getting beaten savagely by Donkey Kong at first until Mario gets a power-up and handily defeats Donkey Kong. This ends with Princess Peach commenting on Mario’s tenacity with admiration. As this is happening the story flashes to scenes of Luigi landing in Bowser’s kingdom and searching for Mario before being chased and caught by Bowser’s troops in a Luigi’s Mansion-inspired sequence. These scenes are the majority of Luigi’s presence in the film, and I wish we had gotten to see more Luigi in general. Especially seeing Luigi’s reactions to being in the kingdom.
Following that we get the infamous Mario Kart scene which I feel was a spectacular scene. Another moment where the viewer gets to experience the feeling of playing the game while watching the film. My one small complaint is that I wish we had gotten to see more of the items and powerups from Mario Kart, and I also wish there would have been more variety of characters besides kongs and koopa troopas. The scene does a great job of continuing the Mario and Donkey Kong rivalry and budding friendship.
The Mario Kart sequence ends with Mario and Donkey Kong becoming separated from everyone, falling into the ocean, and being swallowed by the moray eel from Super Mario 64. Meanwhile the Kong army is captured and Peach returns to the mushroom kingdom to evacuate her citizens. Inside the eel Mario and Donkey Kong almost have a bonding moment over their issues with their fathers. Speaking of which, one questionable change that Mario fans will wonder about was the decision to make Cranky Kong Donkey Kong’s father rather than his grandfather. My guess is that the team wanted to include Cranky but didn’t want to confuse viewers too much with the deep cut reference of Donkey Kong Jr. being the father of Donkey Kong. Mario and Donkey Kong manage to escape the maw-ray by riding a barrel rocket in the style of Donkey Kong Country Returns.
Bowser’s ship arrives at the mushroom kingdom and he delivers his ultimatum, attempting to propose to Peach and threatening to kill Toad right in front of her if she refuses. It’s a great villain scene that re-enforces how dangerous Bowser is as a villain at the end of the day. This scene ends with Peach being taken as Bowser prepares an elaborate wedding ceremony complete with the sacrifice of all the prisoners, including Luigi in Peaches’ honor. This builds up to a fake-out scene of Peach having been “kidnapped” only for it to be a ruse as her and Toad snuck in a power-up that peach uses to freeze Bowser.
Mario and Donkey Kong arrive on the scene. This leads to another great platforming scene with Mario and Donkey Kong using power-ups and beating up Bowser’s minions as they rush to the wedding platform. They rescue the prisoners, including Luigi creating a really nice moment where the brothers are reunited and express how happy they are to finally be reunited. Bowser Launches a Banzai Bill aimed at the Mushroom Kingdom and Mario flies off using the tanooki suit to stop it. Mario manages to redirect the Banzai Bill into the warp pipe that first dropped him into the mushroom kingdom. The explosion turns the pipe into a vacuum that sucks everyone into it, warping them all back to Brooklyn.
Bowser is furious with all his plans in shambles, and attacks Mario. Takes a savage beating even showing some damage complete with a black eye, bruises, and damaged arm. Mario is knocked into the Punch-Out Pizza restaurant where he hides from Bowser and has a moment where he realizes that he must fight. This moment humanizes Mario and his struggles as he has been fighting all movie and is on the verge of giving up before he remembers all that he is fighting for. The mushroom kingdom, Brooklyn, Luigi, and their dreams of being heroes.
Mario returns to the fight, and in a beautiful moment Luigi saves Mario, and the united brothers get the Power Star and become invisible, and in an amazing sequence wipe out Bowser’s troops and absolutely demolish Bowser in a very cool and heroic fashion. The ends with the brothers living in the Mushroom Kingdom and hopping into a warp pipe at the end leaving the idea open that they can travel freely between Brooklyn and the Mushroom Kingdom. This is further supported by the post-credits scene which shows Yoshi’s egg hatching in the Brooklyn sewer.
Now we move to the characterizations. How do the characters measure up? Overall, they are good and faithful to the originals while taking steps to flesh out the characters in a mainstream way without going too far. We can chalk this up to Nintendo’s being co-producers and deeply involved creatively.
Mario’s never-say-die spirit and his love for his brother shine brightly in this film and make him endearing. His struggles with feeling like he doesn’t quite measure up to the hero he dreams of becoming do a good job of making him more human. This doesn’t detract from Mario’s optimism as he overcomes these issues throughout his adventure. The movie leans into the comedic side of Mario with lots of pratfalls and physical comedy where Mario is often the punchline. This might wear thin with some viewers quickly. While there is a lot of comedy revolving around Mario it never crosses that line into being mean-spirited towards the character and always serves to highlight Mario’s fish-out-of-water experience.
Where the story leans into comedy with Mario they lean into fearfulness with Luigi. Like with his brother, they never let it cross the line where it becomes mean-spirited. Luigi displays the same determination as his brother. Unfortunately, Luigi doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time, and as a result the audience doesn’t get as much time to explore this character. But, what we see is really good, and makes us want to see more.
Princess Peach has an interesting character. It’s clear that the creative team wanted a more action-oriented take. Peach is smart and tough, a leader that takes charge in every situation. Her love for her people and her drive to protect them are her motivation. They mirror Mario’s own drive to protect Luigi. Peach’s character is played very straight and as such there is not much humor to her. She takes on the role as a guide for Mario teaching him how the world works. Ironically, Princess Peach has some of the meanest lines towards Mario during the film. There is no getting around the fact that at least some of this characterization of Peach was decided by a corporate boardroom. Peach skirts dangerously close, but the film makes a solid effort to keep the character from crossing that line into bland generic girlboss number #837492. Some viewers may find that they failed in that endeavor.
Bowser’s character is a 1-to-1 transition of Bowser from the games and it leads to the breakout best character in the movie. Bowser is 100% unapologetically himself through and through. He’s intimidating and powerful while also being hilarious in the humorous moments. I hope that the success of Bowser encourages the team to be less afraid of being 100% faithful with character interpretations in future films.
Donkey Kong’s character is somewhat different from his original. DK is the smug showboating prince of the Kongs, which suits his role in the film. The rivalry with Mario is done well and is a great callback to Mario and Donkey Kong’s rivalry in past games. Because Donkey Kong doesn’t have super strong characterization in the games there is a void that the film does an okay job at filling.
Toad is that overly-enthusiastic chatty sidekick. It’s a role that works for Toad because there are so many toads with a multitude of personalities, so it makes perfect sense that one of them would have this personality. This Toad is funny and plays the sidekick without overstaying his welcome.
The score in this film is amazing. It is filled to the brim with remixes and homages to music from throughout the Mario franchise. Several points in the film the BGM uses inserts of popular music from the 80s. I think that they made the best choice possible using music from the 80s, the time when the franchise was born. In an ideal world there wouldn’t be any insert songs at all, and the entire soundtrack would be Mario remixes. I think that due to the sheer number of mixes they pass by so quickly that it feels like none of them get a chance to stick around and be fully enjoyed.
Score and Final Thoughts
Overall, I found this film to be an outstanding experience. It feels like a love-letter to Nintendo fans and lays the perfect foundation for more films exploring the Nintendo universe. The Nintendo fan’s imaginations have been ignited once again and are roaring with the possibilities of more movies based on their favorite games. I give this movie a 9.6 out of 10. I recommend it for everyone that enjoys fun movies that don’t take themselves too seriously and only seek to entertain and delight.