*Spoiler-free thoughts, assuming you’ve seen the trailers.
Super Mario Bros. was the very first video game I ever played, in probably 1987. I haven’t played every Mario game. I haven’t even finished all the ones that I own. But the Super Mario Bros. world is important to me.
So when a fully-animated Super Mario Bros. movie was announced, I was excited! There was the live-action Super Mario Bros. movie in 1993 that, y’know, I enjoy? But not because it’s Mario. I like it as a weird early 90s cyberpunk flick that has a bunch of video game references. So, yes. Fully-animated. Let’s go!
And then it was announced that it would be produced by Illumination, the studio behind Despicable Me and Minions. And I became very concerned. Now, in fairness, I haven’t SEEN those movies… because, based on the trailers, they look like movies I would not enjoy. And I don’t have the patience for movies I probably won’t enjoy.
I watched all the trailers for The Super Mario Bros. Movie with trepadation. There was certainly a LOT that looked like Mario in there. Maybe the voice cast was a little too celebrity-centric, but y’know, that’s a thing theatrically-released animated movies do for reasons that still confuse me. But, like… there was Princess, the Koopas, the Troopas and the others… I was SERIOUSLY hoping that hanging with the plumbers would get hooked on the brothers, and not leave me totally let down.
And, you know what, I was not.
It’s not a perfect movie for a 40 something single adult male with no children. But it MIGHT be a perfect kids movie. There were no dirty jokes for the parents that will go over the kids’ heads. Everything was played straight. There was VERY little meta humor. The jokes were all recycled and a little cliché. But none of that matters, because it was all EXECUTED wonderfully.
The plot is simple and straightforward: After going down a warp pipe, Mario and Luigi are separated and end up in a strange new land. Meanwhile, the evil Bowser is attacking the Mushroom Kingdom with his Koopa army, and Mario has to help Princess Peach save the day while also rescuing his brother. It’s a very light plot that works to chain together a bunch of otherwise seemingly-disconnected scenes.
But, isn’t that exactly what Super Mario Bros. games are? Bowser kidnaps someone and/or tries to take over, and Mario and company have to run and jump through grass lands, desert lands, and dark lands to try and stop him. So while I can see people who are looking for a deep and complex plot being disappointed, this is a KIDS’ movie, about MARIO. And if that was the remit? They nailed it.
The movie opens establishing that Bowser is evil, and that the Marios have something to prove. Brooklyn has a TON of fun Nintendo video game background references, and the more you know about the history of Mario in early 1980s video games, the more rewarding looking for Easter Eggs in the background becomes (coincidentally, I saw this movie on Easter Sunday, so enjoying Easter Eggs was an unintentional delight). Once Mario ends up in the Mushroom Kingdom and starts interacting with the other characters and the world, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia and happiness at just how much they got right, both visually and tonally.
Also, I really love Mario Kart 8, you guys. And the Kart scene in this movie is SO FUN, with SO MANY quick nods to the mechanics and gameplay of Mario Kart. After seeing that they were including MK stuff in the movie, I was INCREDIBLY weary of how that section would work out. I think they pulled it off.
But it’s not a perfect movie. There are some 1980s pop songs thrown in for action scenes, and I think they’re unnecesary. While the score is FILLED with references to Koji Kondo’s soundtrack to the video games, I think there were even more of them that went unused and could have replaced any of the pop songs.
Speaking of music, Bowser has a song in the movie. And because Bowser is voiced by Jack Black it JUST works, so I’m cool with it being there. Had Bowser been voiced by anybody EXCEPT Jack Black, though, I would have preferred if they took that entire scene out of the movie. So, overall net positive?
There were also several slow motion shots used for dramatic effect during action sequences, and I think there was maybe one or two too many of those. But, your mileage may vary.
Overall, I’ll say this: If you grew up playing the Super Mario Bros. games, and/or if you have kids who love Mario games, I think you should see The Super Mario Bros. Movie. If you’re not into Mario? You’re probably fine skipping it. This is a movie made explicitly for kids and fans of the franchise, and that’s okay.
Stay after the credits are over.