The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023): Illumination’s Shiny, Polished, Cliché-Riddled Take on the Mushroom Kingdom

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, both of whom have worked on Cartoon Network’s “Teen Titans GO!”. This film stars Chris Pratt (The LEGO Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy), Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma., Last Night in Soho), Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Fist Fight), Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Keegan-Michael Key (Let’s Be Cops, Keanu), Seth Rogen (Neighbors, Sausage Party), Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live, Final Space), Sebastian Maniscalco (Green Book, The Irishman), Charles Martinet, and Kevin Michael Richardson (Like Family, Lilo & Stitch). In this adaptation inspired by the popular video game franchise, Brooklyn-based plumber Mario must save his brother, Luigi, from the wrath of Bowser, a fiendish Koopa who has his sights set on ruling the world.

Few things in my life have had more nostalgic attachment than “Mario.” It is one of the few standout things from my childhood that I have taken with me into my adulthood. I still enjoy playing the “Super Mario Bros.” games, “Mario Kart,” “Super Smash Bros.,” and many of the other “Mario” spinoff titles that have come to fruition. So it might surprise you to know that when I heard Illumination would be developing a movie based on the popular IP, I had reservations, despite being curious about the film. I was worried that a studio like Illumination would make the film overly immature and resort to fart jokes every other second. And having seen some of Illumination’s work myself before and after said announcement, my excitement for the film did not grow. These are the same guys who made “The Grinch,” they have also made another one of my least favorite animated films, “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” which follows up an average first film. The only films from this studio I ended up caring about, which still scream lowest common denominator, are the “Sing” movies.

At the same time though, I also think one of the biggest offenses to cinema is the 1993 flick “Super Mario Bros.,” starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the main duo. Part of me also thought, if movies can be that bad, the IP can only go up. Having seen this new animated take on the “Super Mario Bros.” property, I would say it did. But even that is not saying a lot, because it is not Shakespeare. That said, if there is one thing that distinguishes this “Super Mario Bros.” outing compared to the 1993 predecessor, it is the film’s tendency to actually feel like it belongs in the same realm as the games.

The biggest compliment I can give “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is that even though it makes room, rightfully so, for adaptation, it is extremely faithful to its source material. Granted, it has an advantage that a lot of other material does not, it has plenty to pick from. Nevertheless, I think if you are a fan of the video games, or have played them at least once in your life, this movie could bring back memories. This movie’s animation style, while still being a product of its own nature, is reminiscent of the games themselves. It is colorful, bright, and full of life. The characters themselves even have a distinguished sparkle and shine that many other properties do not possess. Even Bowser, who is this movie’s epitome of evil, has some gloss to him. Illumination has clearly taken all the money they and Universal have earned on selling Minions merch and thrown it straight to the wall.

Some might say that the style of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is too safe. If this refers to the design of the film, I do not see the problem. It looks beautiful and unlike the 1993 film, a great counterpart to the games. There are some far-fetched elements in this film, sure, but as an audience member I can suspend my disbelief to a certain point. There is one point two-thirds in, which looked cool, that kind of ruined said suspension, but the sequence itself was still kind of fun nevertheless.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the voice acting. One of the most controversial aspects of this film for the past couple years were the voices of these characters. The burning question that has to be answered is this… How is Chris Pratt? To my surprise, he is fine. I am not going to say he stands out significantly, but he has developed a Mario that works for the universe at hand. Do I think they should have cast someone else? Maybe, but this could have been worse having seen the result. In my mind, I would prefer that maybe they found someone of Italian heritage to do the voice, but that is just me. But I think Pratt surprisingly fits as the Brooklyn plumber. Although Charlie Day is excellent as Luigi. I would say it is near perfect casting. It also makes sense because I have often imagined Charlie Day as a bit of a scrawny, timid type. While it is not the best movie, if you have ever seen “Fist Fight,” it is easy to see why Day could fit in as Luigi. I think when it comes to these two brothers, they have good chemistry, which is not only great because they are in the title, but much of the movie’s objective revolves around their bond.

I also like what they did with Peach in this film. I think Anya Taylor-Joy, who is an incredible actress, is a solid casting choice for the character. In real life, she has this aura to her, and I can say that having been to a Q&A where she was onstage. As for said aura, it is presented in this film from start to finish. Her voice is a perfect match for a highly respected princess. I like this film’s take on the character, also from a story perspective.

However the real standout of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” in terms of voice casting is the one character I have been excited to witness ever since the first trailer, Jack Black as Bowser. Unlike Chris Pratt at times, who, again, does not do a bad job in this movie, it was difficult for me to see Jack Black through this rugged monster. Maybe part of it is because I am accustomed to seeing Jack Black in certain roles, to the point where it was difficult to picture him as a bad guy. While it may not be his best performance, after all “Jumanji” has proven how challenging it must have been for someone like Black to play someone who is technically a teenage girl, his work here stands out significantly. They say a movie is only as good as its villain, and while “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is not a masterpiece, Bowser’s presence makes the film worth the price of admission. He is intimidating, ruthless, and funny. While he is evil, I almost wanted to root for him at times because Black makes the character as compelling as he can with his performance.

As mentioned, this film is not a masterpiece, and part of it is because of the writing. I will give credit to Illumination for possibly creating one of their more mature scripts in their library so far. There was less toilet humor than I thought there would be in a “Mario” movie made by Illumination. That said, while I have sometimes complained about some movies being too slow, this movie is special because it is actually too fast. Sure, it is simple to understand. Nothing major flew over my head. But when it comes to the film’s scenes, some of them went by too quickly. In a movie that is about a journey, much of that journey feels trimmed. I have complained about certain movies like “Wonder Woman 1984” or even movies I enjoyed such as “The Irishman” for being, or feeling, longer than they should be. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” not only clocks in around 92 minutes, which is not the shortest runtime I have come across, but still. The movie also happens to gloss over moments that would make other events that happen in said movie feel more rewarding or satisfying. However, there are some humorous lines, the characters have finely tuned arcs, and for the most part, the voice actors execute these lines to the best of their ability.

If I have another critique, and this is something that is about as personal as it could get, it is the soundtrack. And I am not talking about Brian Tyler’s score. The score is quite good, there are some great songs, in addition to adaptations of prior material from the games. I am talking about the use of other songs like “Holding Out for Hero” or “Take On Me.” These are not bad songs, but not only are they overplayed in media, but when it comes to “Mario,” lyric-based songs like those are not the first things that come to mind. There is one song in the movie, specifically “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” that fits in its scene, but that is it. I think the problem I have with the soundtrack is that the movie spends time in the Mushroom Kingdom, which establishes itself as this fantastical environment. It is somewhat disconnected from our reality. With that in mind, I have never once thought in my life, playing “Mario” titles, that I should play 1980s pop songs whilst hitting question blocks. I always say there is room for adaptation, but this did not work. I would prefer if for the whole time, the music would just be score-based. Maybe insert another original or something. I do not know, this is a personal preference. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is very much a fantasy title, and when it comes to fantasy, I wish less of our stuff were placed into it. Granted, the people of the Mushroom Kingdom do not know these songs, but I rest my case.

I would say this is a fine “Mario” movie that would give a large group of “Mario” fans what they want. As established, it is faithful to the source material, it looks like the games with some slight differences, the music choices for the most part are like the games, and the sound design does not spark any major differences. That said, whether it is going to win over someone who has never played the games is another story. Would this make people want to play the “Mario” games for the first time? Well, obviously if they like the movie, it is always a possibility. But I feel like if you are not tuned into the “Mario” universe through the games, the same might be true through this movie. But if you like the “Mario” games, I would recommend this movie. I am not endorsing the film as a must-see cinematic event, but if you can find a cheap matinee show or if you want to wait for streaming, be my guest. But even with this statement in mind, I give this recommendation with a certain looseness. There are better movies out right now. If you have played the “Mario” games and they are not your thing, it would be harder to recommend this title. Although if you have children, this could be a decent time at the movies with family. It is not going to significantly insult anyone’s intelligence, but it is definitely not going to help it either. It is a perfectly acceptable, but not great, “Mario” adaptation. Did I want more out of this movie? Sure, but on the bright side, it is brilliant compared to the 1993 disaster.

One last thing, before you leave the movie, there are two scenes during the credits. One in the middle and one at the very end. If post-credits material is your thing, then do not get up when the movie ends. Consider this your public service announcement.

In the end, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a bit misleading. Because despite the title, it is not that super. If anything, it is super average. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” does a lot of things in an okay manner. It is a little fun. It is a little humorous. But it is also a little paint by numbers. Is it cringe-inducing? No. But is it smile-inducing? Not necessarily. It is a middle of the road movie that takes one of the most popular IPs of all time and executes an ordinary script in its skin. Yes, many of the games are as simple as rescuing a princess from a monster. That said, these are not the games. I have fun playing various “Mario” titles because of how the gameplay is laid out. The main objective of the crew behind “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is not to make the gameplay fun. In something like this, there is not, nor should there be gameplay. When you take the gameplay away, you have to enhance something else. I am not bringing my Switch Pro Controller into the theater to control these characters, I am watching the characters themselves. Therefore, I wish the characters, in addition to the story surrounding them, were enhanced. But both of those aspects feel thin. They could have gone deeper. Everything feels rushed. The most notable standouts of the movie are some of song choices, Jack Black as Bowser, and the animation. Everything else for the most part is a far cry. I am going to give “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” a 6/10.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is now playing in theaters everywhere, including formats like 3D, IMAX, and Dolby Cinema. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! Speaking of “Super Mario Bros.,” pretty soon I will be reviewing the 1993 “Super Mario Bros.” movie, which I have already watched. I will be writing my thoughts on it soon. I do not have an official date as to when the review will be dropping, but you can expect a review very soon.

Also, if you have been following Scene Before or have known me in real life, you would know that I have started watching particular anime titles in the past and have been trying to make the medium a part of my ongoing content. One of my next reviews, supposedly the very next, is going to be for “Suzume,” which hits U.S. theaters this weekend. I am very excited for this film, as it is directed by Makoto Shinkai, who has previously directed “Weathering with You,” in addition one to of my new favorite movies ever, “Your Name.” I am curious to see what he does here, and I hope the movie ends up being great. I will have my thoughts soon! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Super Mario Bros. Movie?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite “Mario” game? For me, I would say “Super Mario Galaxy.” I love the levels, the music, the style, everything. Plus, it is scientifically proven that the inclusion of outer space makes everything better. Let me know your picks down below! And I will include spinoff titles! “Paper Mario” is fair game. “Mario Party,” “Mario Kart,” “Luigi’s Mansion,” you name it! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!


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