Directed by: Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic and Pierre Leduc
Premise: An animated film based on the Nintendo videogame. Brooklyn plumbers Mario and Luigi (voice of Chris Pratt and Charlie Day) are transported to a magical world where Bowser (voice of Jack Black) threatens to destroy the Mushroom Kingdom.
What Works: The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the kind of adaptation that plays to its fanbase which in this case consists of children who consume the contemporary games, animated shows, and merchandise as well as their parents who grew up with the classic Nintendo games. The filmmakers succeed placating the fans by including familiar characters and other iconography from the games. Unlike the 1993 live action movie, this is the Super Mario Bros. that fans know and love and the filmmakers service the audience. The score by Brian Tyler makes use of the original musical themes by Koji Kondo and the action is designed to evoke the feeling of a video game. To their credit, the filmmakers limit the iconography to the Super Mario Bros. series. The film does not turn into a parade of intellectual property cameos in the way of The LEGO Movie and Ralph Breaks the Internet. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is colorful with a lot of action but also a bit of humor. Many of the best scenes feature Bowser, voiced by Jack Black, who is very funny and the film takes a somewhat unexpected approach with the character.
What Doesn’t: While The Super Mario Bros. Movie succeeds in giving the fans what they want, it does not aspire to do anything else. The craftsmanship of the film is good but The Super Mario Bros. Movie is also transparently a corporate product. The filmmakers work their way through a boilerplate that leaves little room for personality or style. The story owes a lot to the original Shrek. The narratives of both films are remarkably similar and The Super Mario Bros. Movie even repeats one of the songs featured in Shrek 2. However, the original Shrek had some fun with its characters and storytelling. With the exception of Bowser, The Super Mario Bros. Movie does none of that. The storytelling is straightforward, adhering to the outsider hero template in ways that frequently don’t make sense. Mario is transported to the Mushroom Kingdom where he meets Toad (voice of Keegan-Michael Key) who for no reason takes a total stranger to see Princess Peach (voice of Anya Taylor-Joy) and she enlists this man she just met on a mission to save her people. It’s forced and lazy storytelling. Also like the Shrek films, The Super Mario Bros. Movie includes a lot of popular music but the selection and placement of these songs comes across random, as though they were picked by an algorithm rather than for any artistic or storytelling reason.
Bottom Line: The Super Mario Bros. Movie has energy and even a few laughs and it will entertain its intended audience but the commercial calculations are obvious. The film exists because of a corporate decree, not artistic inspiration, and that’s evident throughout the picture.
Episode: #944 (April 16, 2023)