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Film Review

‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ flops

5/3/2023

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie”
PG | 92 minutes
Directors: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
Stars: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black

Nintendo’s iconic Italian-American plumber has already inspired one flop — and this sluggish new animation isn’t much better. In some respects, it might be worse.

Mario, also known as Jumpman, is the main protagonist of the Super Mario Bros. series and the mascot for Nintendo with a bottomless love for journeying and adventures. He is the older twin brother of Luigi. The character was created by Shigeru Miyamoto and has appeared in more than 200 games, making Mario one of the most beloved characters in the history of video games — known by most all, whether they play the video games or not. And while “The Lego Movie” and “Wreck-It Ralph” proved that films adapted from games could be plenty of fun, whether or not you’re familiar with the games in question, “The Super Mario Bros Movie” is not one of those films.

Of the many disappointing aspects is that the early scenes set in Brooklyn are promising. Mario (Chris Pratt) and his nervous younger brother Luigi (Charlie Day) are established as good-hearted, bushy-mustached young guys who are trying to build their own independent plumbing business. There are some sly nods to the games and some witty explanations for the characters’ more questionable qualities: their white gloves are a marketing gimmick, Mario tells his skeptical family, and their exaggerated Italian accents are put on for a marketing hook. The opening scene is an amusingly chaotic set piece that demonstrates Mario’s physical and mechanical talents in which a tap-fixing job is sabotaged by an embittered dog. 

Apart from some self-mockery and further comedy by playfully using things from the Nintendo game world, the film itself is not as comical as it could have been. Most comedy is still intended for younger viewers.

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Anyway, one night the brothers investigate a flood, which is never explained. They find a magical pipe, which is also never explained. The pipe zaps them both to another planet, or possibly another universe. And, you guessed it, that’s never explained, either. Mario finds himself dropped in the Mushroom Kingdom, where cheerful talking fungi are led by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). But poor Luigi is dropped in the dark kingdom, led by the monstrous Bowser (Jack Black), the turtle/dragon leader of a race of turtles called Koopas. By a remarkable coincidence, the brothers arrive on this surreal planet (or, possibly, in this surreal universe) just after Bowser has just got hold of a glowing star that will enable him to conquer Mushroom Kingdom.

To the untrained eye, it looks as if he and his army are so strong that they could have conquered it, anyway, but I digress. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has the kind of baffling, nonsensical mythology you might expect when a Japanese game company creates an Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn, and then keeps developing that character’s adventures for 40 years. But, after a few scenes, it becomes clear that the directors have given up on making a cartoon that anyone might enjoy and have concentrated instead on piling on references for the benefit of the games’ devoted fans.

The studio is obviously so sure that they have a can’t-fail franchise on their hands that they haven’t even bothered with world-building. For instance, a flashback shows us that Princess Peach is a human who wandered into the Mushroom Kingdom from another planet — maybe even the same planet as Mario. But this mystery is neither cleared up nor mentioned again, presumably because the producers are saving it for one of the many sequels that they’re planning. And why not? This film is approaching a $1B payday. 

The film doesn’t just have quick references to these games; it has long sequences lifted from them. Rather than moving along the plot, the directors keep making the characters run around gravity-defying aerial assault courses, or drive racing cars along a rainbow, just because that’s what happens in the games. They slow the film to a standstill every time Mario and Peach interact when they are supposed to be rushing to defend her realm from Bowser’s invading army. Who knew that the slapstick with a dog in a Brooklyn bathroom would be its dramatic and comedic highlight?

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has an astonishing lack of jokes, twists, memorable lines, exhilarating stunts, touching emotional moments and anything else that might engage a viewer who isn’t playing spot-the-allusion. Adults accompanying those children may wish they were watching the Hoskins and Leguizamo flick instead. ♦

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