With tons of bright, flashy colors, spectacular animation and an impressive cast of voices, THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE should have turned out much better. Unfortunately, the storyline and screenplay by Matthew Fogel (MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU, 2022) is lacking in originality --- and humor.
Co-directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, the creative team responsible for Teen Titans Go!, had the idea of this movie serving as the “origin story” for Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day). Setting them up as “blue collar” Italian-American plumbers from Brooklyn, we get a peek at their extended family and a father who is disdainful of their abilities, particularly Mario.
In their eagerness to prove themselves as plumbing experts, they wind up transported to another universe --- Mario to the Mushroom Kingdom and Luigi to the Dark Lands. Mario is desperate to find his brother, eliciting help from Toad (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) who insists they need to ask Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy), the ruler of Mushroom Kingdom, for help.
By now, Luigi has been captured by Bowser (voiced by Jack Black), king of the Koopas, a huge fire-breathing monster who insists upon invading Mushroom Kingdom and marrying Peach. Realizing they need help defeating Bowser, Peach, Mario and Toad travel to the Jungle Kingdom to ask Cranky Kong (voiced by Fred Armisen) for his army. But to get assistance from Kong’s Army, Mario must first defeat Cranky Kong’s son, Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen), in a one-on-one battle.
THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE is rated PG, but there are a few scenes which could be frightening for young children, especially those which take place in the Dark Lands. And Bowser can be terrifying at times --- amusing at others, especially when he’s playing the piano and singing. Or trying to convince Peach to marry him. But overall, this film just isn’t all that entertaining.
The animation by Illumination is incredible, but that alone doesn’t make an enjoyable film. Pratt’s Mario is extremely disappointing. He was chosen over Charles Martinet, the long-time Mario voice actor, and that was a mistake. He sounds flat --- almost like he phoned in his performance. Whereas Taylor-Joy, Black, Rogen and Key sound like they’re having a blast. Too bad the script doesn’t allow for a lot more fun.
THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE is one of those films that lands somewhere in the middle. It’s not great --- but it isn’t truly awful, either. And at 92 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Opinion: Wait for VOD
It has been 30 years since the first SUPER MARIO BROS. debuted and now, we have THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE. A strong cast in the 2023 version includes Chris Pratt, Charlie Day and Jack Black voicing the main characters Mario, Luigi and Bowser. In the 1993 animated film, the late Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo and the late Dennis Hopper provided those voices.
Writer Matthew Fogel has created a delightful new character in Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy). Fogel does borrow rather heavily from “Alice in Wonderland” with edibles that make one big or small, but the young ones won’t care.
Other household names adding their voice talents are Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key and Fred Armisen.
Of special note is the music by composer Brian Tyler, a triple Emmy nominee, whose pounding score would be more than adequate in a live action drama.
THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE is primarily for older children although there are tidbits that would appeal to adults. Personally, I get quite bored with extended battle sequences and the bulk of the film plays to the crowd who love that sort of thing. I prefer scenes like we have here --- however brief --- where Mario and Luigi are having dinner with their extended family. And the interesting final minutes showcase the two plumbers being showered with a heroes’ welcome by adoring fans in Brooklyn.
The animation in THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE is excellent, whether depicting crowd scenes or individuals’ facial expressions, including one canine whose mean grimace is hilarious. However, the storyline is yet another “the world is in peril and must be saved from a villain”. Here’s hoping a more original theme will be forthcoming from future Mario Bros. pictures. And if anyone is wary of too much violence in an animated film, an extended fight between Mario and the spoiled bully son of a local king would support that concern.
Opinion: Wait for VOD