Mario bros. rise above the odds

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” receives favorable reception, despite unlikely chances


Photo courtesy of Illumination.

Xander Adkins, Copy Editor

Chris Pratt. Anya Taylor-Joy. Charlie Day. Jack Black. Keegan-Michael Key. Seth Rogan. As these names flashed across the screen of the September 23, 2021 Nintendo Direct, a live broadcast that announced major news for Nintendo franchises, fear struck itself into the hearts of all watching.

A Super Mario Bros. movie was announced mere seconds prior, and the celebrity cast, coupled with the news that Illumination would be creating it, made for one of the most confusing and hilarious announcements in both film and video game history.

If it wasn’t reactions to the announcement clogging your YouTube, TikTok, or Twitter pages that week, it was predictions, theories, interviews with actors and producers, fake leaks and just about every form of content you could imagine being published by social media influencers ready to milk the next big “thing.”

Personally, I tried to keep my expectations in check. I had already felt pretty mixed about the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie a year prior, and 13 year-old me didn’t want to be disappointed by a Japanese video game company’s mascot’s movie again (oddly specific situation, I know).

Another reason I kept my expectations low was because I couldn’t imagine how a Mario movie would work. I mean, Sonic is the series with all the complicated storylines and lore, yet his movie came out kind of bland. Why would I expect Mario, a franchise where the extent of the story is saving a princess (not counting spinoffs … don’t get mad at me “Paper Mario” fans), to have a more entertaining movie than Sonic?

But as more trailers for the film came out as the months until release ticked down, I started to become a little more optimistic. The trailers and teasers did a good job establishing the tone and world that the movie would inhabit, and I held onto that cautious optimism until I took my seat at the theater.

And it didn’t disappoint.

To be fair, the movie would have had to have been really bad for me to actually feel disappointed by it, but this is Illumination we’re talking about. Whether it be bad adaptations or sequels, they eat my disappointment for breakfast. 

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is everything you would want from a film adaptation of a video game series. It’s fun, shows us more of the world than we would ever see in the game and has references galore.

Because the simple “save princess from giant turtle” plot wouldn’t work for a whole movie, it’s Luigi who gets kidnapped this time. I think this minor character switch makes the plot feel much fresher, and it’s cool to see Princess Peach be something other than the damsel in distress for the first time since, what, “Super Princess Peach” on the DS, which came out 18 years ago? Needless to say, her time to actually do something was long overdue.

In terms of plot … that’s pretty much it. Mario and Luigi are actually from Brooklyn and accidentally travel to the Mushroom Kingdom while plumbing (yes, I do love that reference to the original — and terrible — 1993 film), and halfway through Mario fights Donkey Kong to win the Kong army, but that’s about as complicated as it gets.

I can’t see this as anything but a positive, as it allows the focus to stay on Mario and Peach, Bowser and Kamek, and the references that I totally ate up.

When it comes to making references, I could write a whole other story about how to do them “properly.” For now, I’ll just say that this film has a good mix of “in your face” references, and much more subtle ones that a “Super Mario” connoisseur like myself would pick up on.

What I like most about the references is how all of them, subtle or not, don’t halt the fast pace that the film adopts early on. There’s never any point where Mario turns to the nonexistent camera and says something like “Mamma mia, I guess you could say we’re in the Donkey Kong Country, am I right?” And then only two parents on opposite ends of the theater laugh because the target audience for the film is people who were born after the Nintendo Switch came out (another oddly specific tangent, I know).

For me, the biggest surprise was easily the voice acting. After the initial announcement, I was ready for the biggest dumpster fire in acting history. Even the trailers that came out before the film was released had some oddly read lines, so I was getting excited to see it just because of the fact that Chris Pratt was voicing an Italian plumber.

But Illumination and Nintendo no doubt saw the attention that the reveal was getting, and made some smart decisions to get us eased into the new voices.

Not only did they release a ton of trailers pre-release to help fans adjust, but the beginning of the film has Mario talking in a very stereotypical and self-aware Italian voice for a commercial, before cutting to him out-of-commercial talking normally. It was a pretty smart way to let fans know that Illumination knows the cast is bizarre, but it may not be as bad as they think.

The rest of the performances are alright, if a bit of a mixed bag. Jack Black as Bowser was surprisingly great, Anya Taylor-Joy could’ve used another attempt or two on a few lines for Peach, and the rest of the cast did fine enough. There were only a few moments where I was taken out of the movie by a weirdly-read line, and I think that deserves at least a little praise.

From reveal to release, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” gathered quite a bit of attention. Of course something with Mario on it was going to do well financially, but I was impressed with how the attention before release never seemed to dwindle.

Look, I know I just praised this film to high heaven, but it isn’t some masterpiece — far from it. This is still an Illumination movie with a celebrity cast, pop music and cute, marketable characters to make merchandise out of, no different from “Minions” or “The Secret Life of Pets” from an outsider’s perspective.

From a Mario fan’s perspective, though, this film is everything it needs to be. A fun ride where we explore the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond, with our favorite characters (except Funky Kong, R.I.P best Kong), powerups and other forms of Mario shenanigans.

As a movie, you can do much better. As a video game movie, you can do much worse. As a video game movie made by Illumination with a cast consisting entirely of celebrities, It’s a miracle that this doesn’t suck.