The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Director: Aaron Horvath & Michael Jelenic
Date Created: 2023-04-05 11:41
Okay, so don’t kill me – but I definitely dozed a few times during The Super Mario Bros Movie. Hear me out though –
The Super Mario Bros Movie is not necessarily boring, but if the movie was not attached to the uber-popular video game series and littered with recognizable star names, then this movie would not make any headlines.
This The Super Mario Bros Movie analysis will break down the potential intentions of filmmakers when creating this movie and discuss the staggering difference between the audience and critics’ reviews of Nintendo’s latest film.
After unexpectedly finding himself in Mushroom Kingdom, Mario teams up with Princess Peach to save his brother, Luigi, and stop Bowser from world domination.
The Super Mario Bros Movie Analysis
A Little Background
The Super Mario Bros Movie is actually Ninetendo’s second attempt to create a movie for Super Mario. The first attempt, Super Mario Bros. (1993), was apparently so bad that it is consistently ranked as one of the worst movies of all time.
30 years later, directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic are attempting to bring justice to the Super Mario narrative with this new animated release.
No strangers to fun animated stories, Horvath and Jelenic have a history of working with the hit Cartoon Network series, Teen Titans Go, so hopes are high for these two.
With Super Mario games being around for over 40 years, several generations of children have had the iconic video game embedded in their core childhood memories including the directors, the cast, and the majority of the creative team.
Several interviews of the cast, producers, and directors rave about what a golden opportunity it is to be part of such a timeless, profound project.
The Movie’s Objective
The objective of The Super Mario Bros Movie was to take this iconic, nostalgic video game and breathe life into it. With that objective purely, this movie did a fantastic job.
The Super Mario Bros Movie plays out like a series of cinematically animated video game quests.
The audience jumps through construction sites with Mario and Luigi as they make their way to work. They cartoonishly plug bursting pipes with their hands and feet like a game of whack-a-mole.
We avoid banana peels and turtle shells on rainbow roads, collect power-up items to improve our performance, and repeat our way through tough obstacle courses for hours until we can level up.
Older fans of Super Mario can get excited by the presence of their favorite retro games in the background of scenes and audio clips that transport them back to Game Cube days. Younger fans can revel in the bright, eye-popping colors and familiar modern-day Mario adventures.
This film is a celebration of all things Super Mario.
It’s like we’re watching a video game happening except that we have no control over the outcome.
More than just a 1.5-hour, high-definition video game, this movie attempts to combine an elevated portrayal of gameplay with a narrative that aims to further personify, connect, and liven up the characters that exist in the game.
Unfortunately, this is where the movie falls short.
Super Mario Characters
In an interview with Animation Magazine, director Michael Jelenic said that with casting roles for the Super Mario characters, their main focus was to “bring these video game characters, who really don’t have much of a personality, to life and make them relatable and funny and heroic.”
Despite recognizing the Super Mario characters’ natural absence of personality, within the movie, there’s still not much further deepening of their already shallow personalities.
The characters in this movie are very one-dimensional and their character relationships are incredibly flat as well.
Exactly what you would expect of the characters in the game is pretty much what you get in this movie.
Mario, voiced by Chris Pratt, is a go-getter, a big dreamer with a big heart, yet, pretty much your average guy. Despite not being anyone’s first, second, or third choice to play the mustachioed Italian character, Chris Pratt nailed the essence of the average everyday Italian-American plumber very well.
The beloved, original Mario voice actor also got his accolades in the film by voicing Mario’s dad as well as other secondary characters in the movie.
Luigi, voiced by Charlie Day, is practically Mario’s shadow, an anxious yes-man. Besides supporting Mario, it’s difficult to know grasp what Luigi really wants and who he really is.
Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) seemed intended to be this sweet but fierce, self-sufficient kind of woman. An anti-damsel in distress if you will. Nowadays, it’s not really a groundbreaking concept but rather one that often polarizes female characters into either “weak” or “strong” when the definitions of both terms are not mutually exclusive and overlap quite a bit.
With big names like Chris Pratt and Anya Taylor-Joy behind Mario and Princess Peach respectively, it was odd to have the characters so void of a more dynamic personality.
The only character who shows us a side of themselves that is not already implied from their video game persona is the villain, Bowser, played by the boisterous Jack Black. Bowser has many facets to his personality (although scarcely explored) which made him the character that felt the most well-rounded, multifaceted, and 3-dimensional.
I will say this though, although I doubt anyone will agree, it took me some time to get used to Jack Black’s voice as Bowser.
I don’t know if it’s because Bowser’s blocky mouth was hard to shape around words or I just expected a lower, more growly voice to match his menacing appearance. However, when he softened up a bit with his impeccable original song, “Peaches” (step aside Justin Beiber), his voice started to fit his body like a glove.
Finally, we have our evil Koopa Troopa minions and our good toad minions (the leader toad surprisingly voiced by Keegan Michael-Key), all with the annoying essence of the minions from Despicable Me, except they speak with real words. It’s no surprise that the screenplay was written by Matthew Fogel, the same person who wrote Minions: The Rise of Gru.
This film definitely embodies the same youthful energy of a Minions movie.
Super Mario Narrative
This movie’s main objective was most likely not to change the world with its soul-moving interpretation of Super Mario’s humanity but that doesn’t mean that the narrative should be put on the back burner.
Director Horvath said of the film, “We wanted it to feel like a big adventure film and that there are stakes and maybe you believe that these characters can die.”
The movie is very action-heavy, however, narrative-wise, it played it VERY safe.
It is no mystery how the movie is going to end once the characters and circumstances are introduced.
There’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ reliable adventure movie trope. However, the journey from the stage-setting beginning to the predictable end is void of moments that spark curiosity.
There is nothing to keep you engaged and caring about how the characters move from the beginning to the end of the movie.
The “high stakes” that the directors were going for did not translate through the screen. It’s hard to sleep when you worry about the lives of the movie characters, yet, I was out like a light.
The first aspect of the movie that may draw you out of the narrative is the elementary tone of the film.
There are so many middle-aged people who grew up with the comforting sounds and characters of Super Mario. Over 40 years of childhood memories for people of all ages.
Because of the wide age range of Super Mario fans, I was expecting more mature humor wrapped up in the guise of an innocent kids’ movie. A movie that appeals to children and adults alike.
And while there is a comment or two that is a bit too dark for a child, the majority of the script felt a bit juvenile. Like watching a film feature for Nick Jr. or PBS Kids.
There were many parts of the film that I knew were intended to be funny but were also too cheesy to elicit any genuine laughter.
The Truth About the Hype
Most of the audience reviews I’ve come across for The Super Mario Bros Movie have been largely positive and defensive against the negative critics. A common thread among these raving reviews is that they tend to start off with a statement somewhere along the lines of, “I loved playing Mario games growing up,” or “Super Mario games were a staple of my childhood.”
I’d argue that if you didn’t grow up on Mario games, you will not find this movie as flawless as Super Mario fans do.
This is why the Rotten Tomatoes critic score of the movie is so low at around 50%, with a high audience score of over 90%. People naturally associate Super Mario with positive emotions and that sentiment translates over to this movie despite it being just another bright, formulaic children’s movie.
Ultimately, this movie was made for the fans and it’s clear that they seem to have done right by the fans. As someone who is familiar with the Super Mario universe but did not grow up on video games, this movie was simply not made to appeal to me. But with a few tweaks to the characterization and the narrative, this movie could EASILY have more universal appeal.
The Super Mario Bros Movie takes a popular video game and makes it visually cinematic while neglecting to create a well-rounded, engaging narrative with layered characters.
This movie would be a lot of fun for kids and many adults have enjoyed it as well despite the juvenile humor.
The voice actors fit mostly seamlessly into the action but can only do so much to create a more dynamic personality for their characters given the flat characterization.
If you’re not a huge fan of the Super Mario Brothers games and want something a little more novel and multifaceted from a film then you may not enjoy this movie as much as others have.
The Super Mario Bros Movie is cute for what it is but ultimately without the big names and fond memories attached to the film, it’s just an average movie.
What did you think of this movie? Let me know in the comments below!
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Peace, love, and lots of popcorn,