'The Super Mario Bros. Movie' review: Faithful Nintendo adaptation gets a gold star
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
A hyper kinetic, exuberant, and colorful splash of admirable children’s entertainment, the long gestating Nintendo cinematic adaptation “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has everything fans, young and old alike, can appreciate. Unlike, say, the much revered 1993 “Super Mario Bros.” live action adaptation where Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo gallivanted their way through a cyberpunk rendition of Nintendo’s priceless intellectual property. It would seem the good folks over at Illumination Entertainment (the braintrust behind “Minions,” and “The Secret Life of Pets” and who are slowly edging out Pixar in terms of cartoon dominance) have learned from past mistakes, carefully curating a breezy family-friendly adventure that’ll make you want to run home and power up the old ‘64 console or GameCube.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is filled with plenty of easter eggs and cameos from various Nintendo iterations (squint closely and you can spot the apples from “Animal Crossing,” or hear the “Luigi Mansion” theme song in the background) which is guaranteed to unearth fond memories of experiencing the lush, magical world of Mushroom Kingdom for the first time. The animators and computer graphics designers have spared no expense at fine tuning every detail, including facial expressions, obscure references, or the thrill of snagging a blue shell when you need it most. Considering how much the landscape has evolved since the early nineties, it’s not unreasonable to see why the filmmakers felt like they had to pull out a greatest hits album (plus an arsenal of ‘80s bangers including Beastie Boys' “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” or Bonnie Tyler's “Holding out for a Hero”) to help reassure fans their childhoods were in great hands. It’s fast and loose, and, honestly, where more could you want?
The new adventure, directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (who helmed the irreverent “Teen Titans Go! To The Movies”), opens with the introduction of twin brothers Mario (Chris Pratt - who, despite what the internet clamored about, is perfectly suitable for the job) and Luigi (Charlie Day) who have recently started their own plumbing company, complete with a catchy infomercial, to help make ends meet. That’s until they get pulled into another dimension, where Bowser (Jack Black - incredible and easily the best vocal performance in the film) is on a war path of destruction against the Mushroom Kingdom that’s overseen by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). While Luigi gets sucked into a different vortex that lands him in the custody of Bowser, Mario links up with Peach and her army of Toads to help build a loyal alliance, including Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen) and many other, notable Nintendo favorites, to defend the colorful utopia.
It’s a bare bones level narrative, sure, but it’s urgency and sense of pace (it runs 92-minutes which, honestly, is the perfect length for the youngsters) never waver. It manages to juggle several video-game inspired nods and levels (remember how frustrated you got when trying to figure out the complicated pipe system?) as Mario and Peach tag-team and train in their efforts to thwart Bowser’s mission. The movie also manages to redefine certain personality traits and characteristics. Instead of being the damsel who needs rescuing, Peach is a highly skilled combative assassin with a “Game of Thrones” inspired squad eager to defend her honor. Donkey Kong is the basic equivalent of a frat bro with a serious case of daddy issues while Bowser is a hopeless romantic who writes songs about his crush. Again, Black is the standout here and the filmmakers were wise to let him lean into his Tenacious D roots. Younger viewers won’t get it, but adults surely will.
In addition, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” captures the manic thrill of playing the games. Whether it’s scoping out power-up mushrooms, running across a maze of interconnected building blocks, or a thrilling “Mario Kart” crossbred with “Mad Max Fury Road” inspired sequence where the heroes race against Bowser’s army of Koopas across Rainbow Road, it checks all the major boxes a Mario movie should. Above all else, it’s just plain fun and was clearly made by a team of creators who have clear admiration for the source material. We can finally put the past adaptation behind us and accept this as the definitive version.
THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE is now playing in theaters.