By Chad Shreeves
Where to watch it? In theaters now and will likely end up on Peacock like other releases from Universal
Starring: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan Michael Key, Seth Rogan, Fred Armisen
Written by: Matthew Fogel
Produced by: Chris Meledandri and Shigeru Miyamoto
Directed by: Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic
After the successes of both Sonic the Hedgehog movies coupled with the massive, gargantuan hit that was this winter’s The Last of Us on HBO, it seems that the video game adaptation is on the verge of becoming the next big subgenre after decades of being a bonafide joke. And those successes have led to release of one of the summer’s most anticipated animated films, The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
Super Mario comes from Illumination Studios, best known for their work on the Despicable Me franchise and Dr. Seuss animated films. And they bring Mario and his ensemble cast together in breathtaking animation, although the film does suffer in places.
Within the first fifteen minutes of the Mario Bros. movie, two things become inevitably certain about the filmmaker’s intent: this is a movie squarely made for children as well as a love letter to Nintendo’s iconic characters and their fans. And in terms of execution of these two themes, the film is a near masterpiece.
At a very brisk 93 minutes this film moves Mario and company through a variety of game setpieces that will be recognizable to all fans, and it moves at such a breakneck pace that the young ones in the audience will never get bored of it. Flashing colors and bright, vibrant effects throughout as well create a fun, solid children’s film.
As a love letter to the video game franchise that has become almost as recognizable as some of the biggest superheroes out there, it is also near perfection. Almost every frame of this film contains loads of hidden details, easter eggs, cameos, and references to almost every era of the Mario universe from his classic 8-bit NES days to the most recent outing, Super Mario Odyssey. Hardcore fans are going to be spending months compiling the list of every ‘wow’ moment seen both in the foreground and background.
But as a film itself, the movie does seem to struggle. Everyone knows the story, Princess Peach comes under attack from the villain Bowser and Mario must adventure through various themed areas to save the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s as barebones a plot as any of the games, but for an animated children’s film that works. At the same time, animation studios like Pixar and Dreamworks have proven you can have simplistic stories for kids to understand that also create a deep, compelling narrative that adults latch onto. There are also some added cameos from others as well (as seen in the trailers), but for those expecting this to launch some kind of interconnected Nintendo Cinematic Universe, it doesn’t go any deeper than that.
In terms of voice casting, it becomes a mixed bag. Jack Black steals every moment he is in as Bowser, and Anya Taylor-Joy delights as Peach. Chris Pratt and Charlie Day as Mario and Luigi are both fine, but neither stick out. The two sore thumbs really come in regards to Seth Rogen’s Donkey Kong and Fred Armisen’s Cranky Kong, neither of which really seem to embody the characters they portray properly.
In the end, enjoyment of this film absolutely comes down to expectations and what one is looking for in a film like this. For what it is, this film is good. It’s enjoyable, colorful and fun. Despite its thin (and honestly unimportant) narrative, and some questionable voice acting, it’s got a lot to love. For small children and superfans, this will be a huge hit and a delight.