The Super Mario Bros. Movie plays on easy mode

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Nintendo collaborates with Illumination Entertainment for an animated Super Mario film that’s faithful to the look of the games, but not the fun.

It’s been almost 40 years since that little plumber in the red hat jumped into a warp pipe and into our hearts. Super Mario Bros., released for the original Nintendo system in the US in 1985, is still the perfect video game. It’s simple (you just got to jump around), it has iconic music, and its colorful world is hypnotic even with all those cute creatures trying to kill you.

The same can almost be said for Illumination Entertainment’s big screen version of the Italian plumber in their 3D animated children’s film, The Super Mario Bros. Movie. It’s definitely simple enough for anyone to follow. Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt in a weird, sorta Italian accent?) and his taller, skinnier brother, Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day), struggle to start their own plumbing business in Brooklyn. Mario tries to prove his worth when a giant leak floods Brooklyn, which leads the Mario Bros down the sewer, and sucked into a magical green pipe that shoots them out into the candy-colored vibrance that is Mushroom Kingdom.

There they meet the ruler of this psychedelic realm, Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy), who in the games is usually depicted as a worthless damsel in distress but here at least gets some chances to kick butt and ride a motorcycle. They team up with Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen) and the rest of the kart-racing Kong clan to stop the world’s most evil turtle creature, Bowser (voiced by Jack Black). Like the plot of many of the games, Bowser wants to marry Peach (definitely without consent) and rule over all the land with his Koopa troop friends.

The problem with this film is it may look and sound like the Super Mario games, but that doesn’t mean it’s playable. Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic proved they could do something with existing IP with the well-received Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, but the script from Matthew Fogel does them no favors. The reason why recent video game adaptations like The Last of Us or the Sonic the Hedgehog movies have worked is because they’re able to take the elements video gamers loved about them and give the characters strong wants and desires, without trying to replicate every part of the original games.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Nintendo & Illumination)

It also helps to not base your adaptation off a game that features a slim-at-best plot and a main character who just yells, “Wahoo!” over and over. Here, the script feels like it’s checking off boxes. We got that iconic Koji Kondo score? Check! Do we have some references to Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers, and other beloved Nintendo games? Check! Do we have anything to commiserate with Mario and Luigi as characters besides the fact they suck at their jobs and their family thinks they’re a little weird? Uhm…no? Are there at least jokes for people who aren’t children? Not at all!

There are some attempts at commenting on the nature of platform video gaming, like a training montage involving Mario attempting to avoid Piranha Plants and fireballs in an obstacle course. He fails over and over again before slowly learning from mistakes and making through to the end. It brings flashbacks to the many hours I’ve spent in Mario games trying to get especially difficult stars, but without the controller in your hand, you’re watching a glorified (and expensive) Saturday morning cartoon. The disreputable Super Mario Bros. from 1993 may have been accidental nightmare fuel and a box office disaster, but at least it tried something.

The one gold coin here goes to the animators. The Illumination crew is able to create a richly textured world with vivid colors. You can see every strand of hair on Mario’s bushy mustache and every hue on Rainbow Road. It doesn’t matter though since every sequence in the film has the emotional intensity of a video game cutscene.

All the bright colors and Super Mario characters make for a great time at the movies for the little ones who’re still keeping the Mario legacy alive. Unfortunately, The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t have any tasty mushrooms for the older folks who played the original games when they were released back in the day. You’re better off blowing the dust from your old Nintendo cartridges and replaying the games. You can’t do better than perfection. 

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is now playing in in theaters.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie Trailer:

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Sean Price

Sean Price was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana before moving to Chicago to pursue improv and sketch comedy. He has written, directed and produced several short films, music videos, and feature length screenplays.

He’s also performed and co-written several sketch shows, including a film-centric solo show called “Sean Price Goes to the Movies by Himself” at the Playground Theater.

When he's not contributing to The Spool, you can see him perform improv regularly at the IO Theater and ComedySportz Chicago.

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