By Stephen Aspeling18 December 2023
The Super Mario Bros Movie: A feast of full-tilt fun
There was a time when pixelated blotches constituted graphics. This was an age when you still had to feed tokens into arcade machines at the Golden Nugget, or whatever you called your local video game haunt. An escape from reality, it was a chance to manoeuvre a joystick and randomly slam a bunch of buttons until you “figured out” a special move or faced another game over screen. Perhaps this is why Nintendo’s arrival was so revolutionary. Sure, there had been a handful of video game home consoles to get the ball rolling but this console took the industry into mega drive.
Who would dare to imagine a plumber by the name of Mario would capture and hold the world’s attention for decades? Or, that a spiky blue hedgehog would come to be his archrival for video game and now video game adaptation dominion? The magic of video games and animated fantasy worlds made it all possible. Whether the team at Nintendo were on mushrooms or just made their pipe dream a reality, Super Mario Bros was born and has been entertaining us ever since!
After the live-action Super Mario Bros movie was a titanic flop, almost dragging John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins down with it, it’s no wonder Nintendo, filmmakers and studios took a few decades to regroup and give it another go. After the critically acclaimed Wreck-It Ralph and zany Sonic the Hedgehog, it seemed a matter of time before Mario got his shot at the big time… with his brother Luigi, of course!
While not the first arcade video game adaptation you’d think of, Wreck-It Ralph proved the concept of a lovable 2D character making the leap to 3D. Transcending his digital universe with a redemptive quest that tapped into other arcade dimensions, it set the platform for The Super Mario Bros Movie.
Taking a page from this animated adventure comedy, we find Mario and Luigi in their real world… two dedicated Brooklyn brothers just trying to make a buck with a new ad for their plumbing business. When they take on a hazardous job that lures them deep below the city, they discover pipes that transport them to opposite ends of a magical faraway kingdom. Separated and set on divergent paths, they stumble upon Bowser’s misguided plot to marry Princess Peach and rule the kingdom.
Much like Steamboat Mickey is to Mickey Mouse, Mario has been given a makeover and while the original still features in the opening Nintendo title, The Super Mario Bros Movie keeps things in the here and now. This gives Mario every affectation and power we’ve come to expect, starting off with an Italian accent only to go full American like Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. While it helps to have a handle on Mario’s world of mushroom dreams, it’s not essential… ramping things up as Mario learns of his quest and picks up skills under Toad and Peach’s tutelage.
This movie is geared towards full tilt fun, trying to emulate the experience of playing Super Mario Bros. This means there’s never a dull moment as it warps from one eye-popping scene to the next with speed. The vibrant visuals are just as frenetic, not going as hard as the kaleidoscopic The Lego Movie, but keeping the pace up with eye candy galore. From fine textured animation to mind-bending wonderlands, the pristine visuals are in tune and on point. Constantly leaning into mild peril, it’s a thrill to see Mario and Luigi get themselves out of trouble.
The voice cast is one of the animated adventure’s highlights, giving Chris Pratt the role of the unassuming Mario. Melting into the character enough to forget it’s Pratt, his energy and verve shines through on the back of plucky star power. The scene-stealer extraordinaire is of course Jack Black as Bowser. A lover of life whose infectious spirit underpins everything he does, this larger-than-life “ridonkulous” attitude empowers Bowser. An over-the-top villain who just wants his love requited by Princess Peach, his heavy metal vibrations make way for some rousingly silly showstoppers.
A love letter to everything Mario Bros, it’s clear that this roller-coaster movie has been made for the kids who now have their own kids. From Wreck-It Ralph, Saturday Night Fever, Up and Doctor Strange to Mad Max: Fury Road, a host of classic and contemporary films serve as inspiration for the movie’s many visually captivating scenes. Spawning heaps of movie references, The Super Mario Bros Movie is guided by an offbeat and quirky comedic tone as propelled by its voice talent. Never taking itself too seriously, the soundtrack is laden with nostalgic tracks from the likes of AC/DC, The Beastie Boys and Bonnie Tyler, making this a welcome blast from the past.
What Super Mario Bros lacks in pure originality, it more than makes up for with high adventure, bravado and shiny visual splendour. A colourful and spirited video game adaptation with a rollicking soundtrack, the vivid world-hopping and charming voice stars make this a wacky yet fun-filled escapade that should help unearth a new generation of Nintendo fans.
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