The Super Mario Bros Movie Reviewed

7 April, 2023 - 4:06 pm by
About 11 mins to read

Video game to movie adaptations tend to have a bad rep, with the nineties/early noughties being particularly dark periods of time. Tosh like Alone in the Dark, Dead or Alive and Doom being touted as the next great crossover, only to be ripped apart by fans and critics alike. Granted over the last few years, people have started to warm to them but the fact remains, most adaptations aren’t all that good. The worst mainstream failure lands at the feet of Nintendo, and their only attempt at a motion picture, the infamous live action attempt known as The Super Mario Bros Movie. The Bob Hoskins movie released thirty years ago and was so poorly received, that the Big-N dropped all future feature film products for the foreseeable future. That is, until Illumination Studios -the team behind Despicable Me, Minions and Secret Life of Pets came knocking with an idea of an animated version of Mario so grand that Miyamoto himself backed the project and saw it come to fruition.

At A Glance

Positives+ Beautifully animated
+ Chocked full of characters from Mario’s history
+ Bowser is outstanding
Negatives– Story a little thin
– Inconsistent voiceover work
– No Lemmy Koopa
Release Date5 April 2023 (UK) / 7 April (WW)
Runtime92 Minutes
Available FormatsStandard, Real3D, 4DX, IMAX
Format ViewedIMAX

The animated version of the Super Mario Bros has been created by Illumination, in conjunction with Nintendo and distributed with Universal Pictures and tells the story of two brothers, living in Brooklyn trying to kick start their business. After responding to a flood that threatens their town, the Mario Bros get pulled into an alternative world that is on the brink of war where they are quickly separated. Mario, the bigger brother of Luigi, enlists the help of a fearless mushroom creature known as Toad and sets off to find his sibling. He’s given a quick rundown of what’s happening in the world, primarily that Bowser, the King of the Koopas is on a crusade to take over this planet, starting with the Mushroom Kingdom, led by the only other human on the planet, Princess Peach. 

From the summary, it’s easy to discern that the Super Mario Bros Movie takes its cues from the games themselves. Mario teams up with Peach to help build an army to take on Bowser and enlists the help of Donkey Kong along the way to not only save his brother but stop Bowser. While the plot is very by the numbers, people need to remember that this is Nintendo and they’ve been honing what a Mario game is for the best part of four decades, so why should they change the formula now? The film moves at a snappy pace, never stopping too long before moving on to the next scene which is enough for a whirlwind tour of the Mushroom Kingdom. At 90 minutes, and packed to the rafters with Easter eggs from 130+ years of Nintendo history, The Super Mario Bros Movie leaves no time for parents or kids to get bored.

We know by now that what drives a Super Mario game isn’t the plot but the gameplay itself, but what happens when you take away the button inputs? This is the biggest task of both Illumination and Nintendo, how to give the viewers the same feel as playing the game without a controller in their hands. The solution is quite straightforward – make the film feel like someone else is playing it. Much like the established platformer, the characters are never still, they are always in motion one way or another, either walking to their next objective (be it visiting Princess Peach or running from a rabid dog), but whatever the case, there is always some form of movement employed by a character -or the camera itself- to give the picture a feeling of being played rather than watched. Illumination takes this one step further and includes platforming sections, like Mario’s training in the Mushroom Kingdom. This delightfully created obstacle course looks like it’s been stripped from Super Mario Maker, with falling blocks and Piranha Plants snapping away at our moustachioed hero. 

The platforming elements aren’t the only thing that’s made their way over to the Super Mario Bros Movie, during the Rainbow Road segment we’re treated to not only how the Mario Kart vehicles are pieced together, but also how the game’s power-ups have translated to the big screen, including the homicidal meanace – the Blue Shell. It’s a smart way of including the ridiculous nature of video games in a more rigid setting but also ticking the fan service boxes in a way that doesn’t offend or cheapen the process.

The animations are absolutely glorious and the perfect adaptation of video game history. The Mario Kart section is particularly vibrant and full of colour, keeping everyone’s attention, and there is not one pixel out of place that would cause a fanatic of the series to say it didn’t wouldn’t be canon in the games. The film’s score is just as packed with various motifs from the series, with the likes of the various character tunes like Peach’s Castle theme from Super Mario 64 and the GameCube boot up noise, which brought a smile to the face of this old gamer who’s played too many Mario games and recognised Koji Kondo’s music anywhere.

Rounding out the package comes the script itself, and which has had a lot of attention poured into it. The challenge set by Nintendo was to take the various grunts and soundbites from the games and turn them into a workable script. For the most part, this is great – the wizard Kamek sounds like Frankenstien’s servant Egor, and the Toads are as shrill as they’ve ever been. The standout performance though is giving the utterly adorable Luma a self-destructive, sadistic look on life where everyone isn’t going to just die, they are going to fade into the black nothingness of existence. This might not appear to be kid friendly but by god, it does make the adults laugh.

It’s not all Shine Sprites and Rainbow Roads, with the biggest dry-bone of contention being the voice acting itself. Even before the movie debuted, there was a lot of division in some of the casting announcements, mainly Mario himself, portrayed by Chris Pratt. Within the first 10 minutes of the picture, this is hilariously explained to the audience and is perfectly justifiable given the context, but that’s not where the issues lie. The main problem with the voice-over work is consistency – both Pratt and Seth Rogen (playing Donkey Kong) apparently just showed up to the recording booth with just their regular voices but ended up trying to slip into characters for snippets of dialogue.

This did work a couple of times throughout the film, hearing Donkey Kong burst out with Rogan’s recognisable laugh was rather funny but this was the exception rather than the rule. Pratt’s performance was particularly jarring, with a few lines in his regular tone before an exaggerated “Let’s-a go” or “Mama-mia” to finish the scene. Perhaps this was done so that the audience could distinguish Mario from Pratt’s other cartoon persona – Emmett from The Lego Movie, but whatever the reasoning, the weird hybrid of a regular voice mixed with a faux Italian-American accent made Mario feel like a strange background character thrust into the spotlight. It was especially noticeable when our Italian plumber came face-to-face with Bowser. 

Jack Black’s performance as the King of Koopas was on another level, with everyone having to play catch up with him. From the menacing introduction, the takeover of the ice kingdom shown in the trailer, to his more comedic and sensitive moments, particularly involving a piano, Black understood exactly what the character was about and played to every beat perfectly. For me, his embodiment of Bowser is up there with perfect casting calls like Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt and Uma Thurman as the Bride. 

Nintendo was never going to let The Super Mario Bros Movie be anything but a success and worked hard to undo all the damage that the 1993 live-action version created. Sticking to the established formula of Super Mario and bringing in the team that worked to make Minions the powerhouse it became is absolutely the right fit and tone for a near-forty-year-old series. After nearly six years of development, the end product is one that manages to join a growing number of good game-to-film adaptations, a list that currently includes Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Mortal Kombat. That’s not to say there are challenges, the film plays it very safe with the tried and tested Mario plot and patchy voiceover work threatens to undo all the good work, but Nintendo and Illumination have still managed to craft a 90-odd minute feature that is an enjoyable film for their target markets; young kids and die-hard fans. For everyone else, the Super Mario Bros movie is firmly aimed at the younger audience so depending on how young at heart you are, will depend on how much enjoyment you’ll get out of it.

In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was sent to an early access screening of the movie. We’ve not been paid for a positive review and all expenses were at our own costs.