For 38 years the Super Mario Bros. have lived in games and had guest appearances in Nintendo franchises, cementing themselves as a pillar of pop. culture. Starring in over 200 games and becoming Nintendo’s official mascot, the timing feels right for a movie adaptation of these characters and the infectiously fun mushroom kingdom. Back in 1993, the first live-action film attempt was a complete failure and misunderstanding of the Mario characters, fortunately, Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind the Despicable Me, Sing & Minions franchises, has worked with Nintendo to deliver a beautiful and faithful adaptation of The Super Mario Bros. world that fans both young and old will enjoy.
This 90 minute journey through the Mushroom Kingdom touches on a lot of Mario lore and while it whizzes by at an incredibly rapid pace, it warrants repeat viewings to be able to catch them all. The incredibly colourful world of Mario shines through in the best animation the team at Illumination have ever produced, this goes hand in hand with the beautiful score from Bryan Tyler and longtime Mario composer Koji Kondo. While the story sticks to a typical heroes journey that is more of a highlights through the Mushroom Kingdom than a journey, fans will love the platforming elements of the games that have been cleverly injected into the film.
The story is centered around two brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) who are living in Brooklyn, trying to get their plumbing business off the ground. They live with their Italian family and are trying anything to get their name and business out there. Elsewhere in another dimension Bowser (Jack Black) has found the superstar and is on his way to the Mushroom Kingdom to demand Princess Peach (Anya Taylor Joy) to marry him and rule the multiverse together. When Mario and Luigi accidentally find an underground plumbing structure while saving Brooklyn from a flood, they get sucked into a warp pipe and end up in the Mushroom Kingdom. Whilst they are initially separated, Mario’s mission to find his brother who is locked in a haunted mansion by Bowser and his minions.
Meanwhile in the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario teams up with Toad (Keegan Michael Key) and Princess Peach to enlist the help of the Kong’s and their ruler Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) to put up a fight against Bowser and save the incredibly cute Toads and the other creatures that Bowser has captured.
Visually this film is an absolute feast. The translation from game to movie is perfect, with the 3D animation looking better than the recent Super Mario Odyssey on the Nintendo Switch. Elements like fire, water and ice look hyperrealistic and close-up shots of Bowser’s strip of hair rippling in the wind really help this world feel alive. There is a huge palette of colours on display here with a rich visual feast that really pops in the Mario Kart and Donkey Kong land sequences that are hands down some of the best animation ever made. The action sequences also enhance the visuals as the platforming training montage with Princess Peach and Mario are a delightful throwback to the original side-scrolling games. This is later infused with the Donkey Kong vs Mario Barrell battle and the highlight of Mario Kart, set on the Rainbow Road, it is an onslaught for the senses. The design of each individual kart (and how each character creates it) will delight fans of the famous karting series.
The score from composer Brian Tyler worked closely with longtime Mario composer Koji Kondo who has created a lot of the iconic music from the various games over the years. The traditional Mario score has been woven into an orchestral piece that sails high over the dialogue and compliments the visuals. The score really helps the immersion into the Mushroom Kingdom and hits all the nostalgic notes that fans of the series will be listening out for.
The voice acting from everyone involved is solid here. There were concerns over the casting of Chris Pratt as Mario, and I definitely had my own, fortunately, Pratt is the perfect Mario. A struggling plumber from Brooklyn who is whipped into another world and goes on an unlikely journey with a Princess and a Mushroom seems to fit Pratt’s working-class hero vibe. I was so swept up in the world, that I completely forgot it was Pratt about 10 minutes into the movie and the character felt like Mario. Charlie Day is the perfect Luigi, playing the younger brother who injects the film with a lot of humour and his chemistry with Pratt is perfect. The two standout performances of the movie are Jack Black as Bowser and Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong. Black creates a deep and menacing villain that regrettably loses a bit of its seriousness when he uncharacteristically breaks into song. This is when it is clearly noticeable that Jack Black is the voice actor and then seamlessly slips back into a menacing supervillain. Rogen keeps the same vocal performance for Donkey Kong and it works perfectly, even down to the trademark Rogen laugh with Donkey Kong’s animated face chuckling back through the screen. Joy gets the least amount of things to do here as Princess Peach, there is a slight change up with her character being less of a damsel in distress and more taking charge of her kingdom, however we don’t really get enough screen time to really flesh out the character to be memorable.
The changes from the game make sure that everything works in the movie version. In particular, the power-ups are littered throughout the Mushroom Kingdom and are a great way for all of the characters to be able to wield the power of fireballs, to grow and shrink down as required. It also allows for some rapid-fire craziness in the epic finale with power-ups, barrels and Mario and Donkey Kong teaming up for some almost Super Smash Bros. style fighting.
The story of the heroes-journey that Mario takes up is probably the biggest surprise of the game. It feels a little simplistic for a Mario journey outside of the world of games and is probably the weakest part of the film. Fortunately, the animation, score and characters are big enough to overcome this and setup a Super Mario Bros. movie verse with undoubtedly more sequels, spin-offs and adventures through the Mushroom Kingdom in the future.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a solid adaptation of the highly successful Nintendo game. There are some incredible visual treats littered throughout the movie from Mario’s extensive history in gaming as well as some other Nintendo franchises that you may just recognise. This movie represents a huge leap forward in animation for Illumination Entertainment, with it delivering some seriously impressive visuals. All of this combined with the charm of the 40-year-old Mario universe has resulted in a movie that fans both young and old will enjoy.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is in cinemas April 5.