REVIEW: ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ Does The Trick

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The Super Mario Bros Movie - But Why Tho

At last, The Super Mario Bros. Movie has warped its way into theaters, directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, written by Matthew Fogel, and produced by Illumination, Nintendo, and Universal. The children’s animated movie takes the world’s most famous pair of brothers to the silver screen in a plucky adventure across the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond in a bid to keep evil forces at bay.

Translating the most famous video game characters in the world into a movie is a monumental task. The average plot of a Mario game is merely “Bowser bad, capture Princess Peach, Mario saves princess, stomp on bad guys along the way.” Squeezing a whole 90-minutes out of that tried and true formula while also including action that reminds you of the games’ mechanics, music and sound effects that sound like the games but aren’t too on the nose, and references to characters and levels for players to admire without alienating unfamiliar audiences requires a deftness that the movie succeeds at reaching sometimes but comes short against at others.

The movie begins in Brooklyn, NY. The Super Mario Bros. Movie takes the boys in overalls back to their true roots as New York plumbers who only dream of making it big in the Big Apple’s plumbing industry. But even their own family thinks this is a pipe dream until a water main pipe bursts under the city and their chance to make a dream come true comes knocking. I was shocked by the bold choice to start in the “real” world rather than simply taking the easy route and making Mario a native of the mushroom kingdom. This whole first act serves basically three purposes: to get the audience over the fact that the characters’ voices don’t match the video games they might be used to with very unsubtle but mostly funny jokes about it; to help the audience feel what Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are feeling as they get separated from each other and warp into worlds unknown and to have a single line pay off between Mario and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) later in the movie.

I think the plot as a whole is serviceable. It will feel most familiar to players of Super Mario Odyssey for reasons I didn’t expect, think non-gaming audiences will still find funny, and am mostly unoffended by. I appreciate that the movie is by no means about a heroic Mario who needs to save his princess from the evil Bowser (Jack Black) like in almost every Mario game. Rather, Mario himself is a novice hero who is sometimes scared, often fails at first, and finds his greatest strength in his willingness to keep trying again and again rather than his actual strength or skills. Meanwhile, Luigi, who is not in the film nearly enough to my liking, at least gets to thrive as his own character and not just Mario’s palette swap. In that way, it really is The Super Mario Bros. Movie—emphasis on the “Bros” rather than just “Mario.”

And Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) is not just a distressed damsel either. She’s just as fully a hero as the bros and won’t let you forget it. I appreciate that the character isn’t written so as to over-emphasize her independence. It’s not an especially strong performance either for that matter, but I rather preferred this version of Peach than the one I expected over-filled with the cheesy girl-power-I-don’t-need-no-man one-liners. Her actions can just speak for themselves.

I think the plot could have been a bit more compelling than it was—the beginning, middle, and end are kind of disconnected by the Brooklyn to Mushroom Kingdom switch, the split in character locations, and the twist in character motivation in the middle. But the world the movie builds is quite fun. On the whole, I was impressed with the way the movie manages to put a lot of familiar game mechanics into the plot. A few are hamfisted like the powerups. Some are clearly there because the filmmakers really wanted them to be rather than because they truly serviced the story, like the karts, but I most appreciate just the ways that Mario and company move. It’s some of the animation’s highest points.

Watch our The Super Mario Bros. Movie video review here.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t break any barriers as far as animation itself, but it does have some spectacular visuals. The level of detail in the denim or turtle scales is very impressive, and the characters and their fully inhabited world feel perfectly attuned to the tone the movie sets. It does take a moment to adjust to seeing other human characters at first, but quickly the art style feels at home in my mind’s eye of Mario.

The score, similarly, does a good job blending a lot of classic Mario game arrangements with other orchestration, although there are a number of times when those tunes are so seared into my brain that when they don’t resolve fully before melting into a generic score, only to pop back into a totally different classic Mario melody, my ears got rather thrown off by it. Still, I couldn’t help but feel verklempt whenever some of my favorites played. The sound effects are much more smoothly integrated, usually in tandem with some kind of game mechanic-related gag.

The Super Mario Bros Movie - But Why Tho

The humor on the whole is fine. It’s the typical animation affair with sight gags and one-liners. I’m glad that none of the humor ever really feels like it’s at other characters, namely Luigi’s, expense. It doesn’t make the obvious punch-down jokes the green goober might get online. My biggest gripe with the dialogue is how violent Bowser gets in his language sometimes. It just feels unnecessary, out of nowhere, and maybe even a bit out of character. It’s not my favorite thing in the world to have villains in kid’s movies going around telling the heroes they’ll kill them, on account of the fact that I don’t love when kids repeat that specific kind of language back to each other when they inevitably go home and play Mario vs. Bowser together. But even beyond my personal gripe, none of the dialogue stands out as especially memorable. Aside from one certain character trapped in a cage whose unexpected nihilistic glee had me hollering every time.

Of course, the biggest question of all is how the voice actors faired. It’s no secret the public had its opinions on the cast and whether they would sound like how they believed these iconic characters are supposed to sound. I found that on the whole, the voice acting was pretty solid. A great opening gag gets Mario and Luigi’s lack of accents out of the way instantly and for the most part, my biggest fear that I’d only be hearing these famous voices and not their characters was assuaged in nearly every character. Most of the voices are augmented to higher pitches than you might usually hear Chris Pratt, whose performance was innocuous, or Keegan-Michael Key, who played Toad in a role that I wish we got more out of because he was hilarious and felt the most exciting but was relegated mostly to one-liners.

The one character I struggled with voice-wise was Donkey Kong, simply because his voice was the least augmented and the most easily recognizable for how distinct Seth Rogan sounds. It wasn’t a discredit to the acting itself or the character, I think that was nailed pretty well, it was just a bit of a distraction where even Jack Black’s Bowser, who was also acted and characterized excellently, didn’t have me sitting there picturing Jack Black whenever he spoke. Kong’s role in the movie mostly overcomes this frustration I had, but it definitely lingers.

In all, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is fun and a fairly solid adaptation of one of the world’s most well-known video game characters. It lacks some excitement in the plot and animation departments, but the art direction is excellent, the voice acting and characterizations are largely very solid, and the tidbits throughout that can make gamers go “wah-hey!” over their favorite easter eggs and game references are more entertaining than they are distracting. Go have fun with it and look forward to surely many more Nintendo animated projects to come.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is only in theaters starting April 5, 2023.

The Super Mario Bros Movie
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10


The Super Mario Bros Movie is fun and a fairly solid adaptation of one of the world’s most well-known video game characters.

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