The Mario Bros. Movie Does Not Try Anything New
The Super Mario Bros. Movie, hereafter simply called The Mario Bros. Movie, was inevitable. In the media landscape that brought us Sonic the Hedgehog and gave The Matrix another sequel, the most famous video game character besides Pac-Man was bound to get the silver screen treatment (for the second time—I haven’t seen the previous one). And it’s kind of miraculous it turned out as well as it did.
This is for a few reasons. The first is the correct decision to have this animated. Attempting to mimic game levels in live action to the degree The Mario Bros. Movie does would be uncanny on a level I can’t imagine. This way allows for everything to be adorable, colorful, and dynamic. I’m not saying the Mushroom Kingdom makes sense as a real place people live in, but it’s visually cohesive and evokes so much nostalgia.
The Visuals Are Full Of Charm And Very Whimsical
And that’s the second thing this movie does right: it knows that its purpose is nostalgia. It’s so blatantly pandering and committed to shoehorning in references that it somehow wraps around to being fun. The soundtrack has tons of game audio. Scenes will look like Mario going through a level, down to specific moves. Locations, enemies, power-ups: it’s all here. Everything you’d want to show up in this movie shows up and damn the narrative consequences. Attempts to explain how magic, species, or even the landscapes function are basically nonexistent. You touch a Fire Flower, and it gives you a new wardrobe and fire powers. Don’t worry about how. Why is Rainbow Road where it is? Eh. Because it’s in some of the games. Why is Donkey Kong’s kingdom nearby the Mushroom Kingdom? Because the first Mario game included “Cranky Kong” (voiced by Fred Armisen), and Nintendo owns both properties. One of the few concrete rules we actually get causes a plot hole—so it was probably best they avoided explaining things.
This doesn’t mean The Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t have a plot. It’s just that this is the most rote formation of one I’ve seen in a long time. Go here. Meet them. Save them. Big fight. It barely feels like a three-act structure, let alone a rich narrative. They give Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) an emotional journey, a growing (but never confirmed) romantic arc with Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy), and a rivalry with Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen), but that all happens in brief scenes. And that has nothing on how fast the pace is overall. The Mario Bros. Movie has scene transitions so close to one another that it’s jarring. I swear one scene is less than a minute long. The basically requisite “Am I dreaming?” bit that comes with any portal fantasy is blitzed past, and Mario is onboard with Mushroom Kingdom adventures in record-breaking time. It sometimes felt like the writers relied on the audience to know what pieces of story structure were missing and let us handle that part.
The Mario Bros. Movie Has An Intensely Fast Pace
This was obviously to get to the nostalgia faster, but it also lets the surprisingly good comedy happen more often. If you saw the trailer with the penguins and the snowballs, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s the best joke—it’s not. The comedy is at that level almost the whole way through. Slapstick, puns, visual gags, absurdist humor, sarcasm, lots of bleak gallows humor, and actually entertaining Easter Eggs litter The Mario Bros. Movie. Sometimes jokes can be potentially problematic, but all-in-all, it’s got a lot of chuckle-worthy moments. It’s hard for any media to make me laugh anymore, but Bowser’s performance of “Peaches” happens out of nowhere and is a highlight.
Speaking of Bowser, I’m not the first—nor will I be the last—to mention how good a job Jack Black does voicing the character. I might not have immediately noticed it was him if I didn’t already know going in. He nails the comedy, the anger, the insecurity: all the facets of this version of him. Princess Peach’s, Toad’s (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), and Cranky Kong’s voice actors were also great for similar reasons, disappearing into their fun and quirky roles and delivering great jokes. The background characters are also littered with voice talent.
Bowser If Definitely One Of Highlights Of This Film
Some of the other mains have issues, though, even if the actual acting was good. Now, this is not the article to explore the controversy surrounding this movie’s voice cast and not including Mario’s usual voice actor, Charles Martinet. Nor am I the person to go into the real-world aspects or The Mario Bros. Movie’s in-universe acknowledgments of the Italian stereotyping inherent to the character. What I can go into is how distracting both Mario and Luigi’s voice actors are. Though he got across one of Luigi’s main character traits (being easily scared) quite well, Charlie Day’s distinct voice overwhelmed suspension of disbelief. And, between Star-Lord and Emmet from The Lego Movie, I’ve heard Chris Pratt’s voice in so many contexts that Mario never quite felt like Mario. To be honest, King Kong also has this issue, but he’s in a lot fewer scenes, so it wasn’t constantly grabbing my attention.
But I didn’t see The Mario Bros. Movie for in-depth character work or emotional performances. I went to see a cute little movie with good animation based on a big part of video game history. The action scenes are dynamic and well-animated, the comedy is almost always on point, and the pacing will never let you get bored. I don’t like the premise set that relying exclusively on fandom and nostalgia can be this big of a hit with audiences—because you know we’ll get oversaturated with them—but I had a lot of fun with The Mario Bros. Movie. If you grew up playing the games, consider giving it a watch. It was literally made to entertain you specifically.
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