For those saying this is “the illumination style done at its absolute worst” and “the laziest possible version of a Mario movie,” a simple question is in order: Have you ever tried having fun?
Critics have not taken kindly to “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” — the film currently holds a “rotten” Tomatometer score of 58% and a 46 on Metacritic — and their reasoning is far from a mystery.
Shockingly, Mario’s journey from the streets of Brooklyn to the Mushroom Kingdom lacks thematic depth and social commentary. Six-year-olds everywhere are devastated that they did not contemplate the moral dilemma of stomping Goombas causing widespread property damage hopping from platform to platform.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” knows its purpose: to honor the past installments of a beloved Nintendo franchise and sell new toys. In that regard, it is an absolute success.
Standing at a respectable 92 minutes, this is a film that avoids wasting your time. One very direct storyline dominates the plot, and the pacing is swift.
This straightforward, fast-paced model’s success is indisputable: the film has generated $678 million at the box office, tripling the earnings of Disney’s “Lightyear” and surpassing DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: the Last Wish.” As “Spider-Man: No Way Home” demonstrated in 2021 when its creators brought three different live-action Spider-Man actors to the screen, heralding immense commercial success for the film, nostalgia is a valuable tool to bring fans into theaters. Even in the face of critical rejection, the Mario brothers maintain their appeal.
From the moment the lights dim, Illumination’s animation is extraordinary. Familiar locations from the Mario universe are brought to life: Luigi’s Mansion is a prime example, which takes up just a few seconds of screen time but features an unprecedented degree of graphical detail. Every character — from Luigi to the fifth Shy Guy walking out of vision — reflects the methodical effort of a gifted animation team.
The film also incorporates a plethora of Easter eggs to previous installments of the Mario franchise. Several scenes feature a horizontal platformer action style that is reminiscent of the Super Mario Bros. gameplay one might find on a Wii or DS. As the plot introduces the need for the Mario characters to travel quickly, characters embark across Rainbow Road in vehicles pulled straight from “Mario Kart,” marking a fun throwback to a classic video game spinoff as the characters drift to the climax of the film.
These nostalgic moments are joined by a soundtrack that will pander to Nintendo fans of every age. Composer Brian Tyler includes at least 113 different tracks from the Mario games, allowing the audience to take both a visual and auditory trip down memory lane.
Despite concerns that Chris Pratt would be unfit to voice Mario, he proves his voice acting talents for the character by the end of the movie. In fact, no voice acting choices in the film feel out of place. Jack Black’s Bowser blends amusing with evil, bringing a voice to a villain who rarely does more than roar in the games. Anya Taylor-Joy helps to construct a modern Princess Peach who counteracts the overused “damsel in distress” model for the character.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” does fall short, however, in regard to the character of Luigi, as Mario’s green-themed brother takes a back seat to the broader narrative. The Penguin Kingdom suffers from a similar degree of neglect, as it serves as an amusing plot device to introduce Bowser, but feels insignificant by the film’s conclusion.
No one plays a Mario game for the nuance, and no one’s watching “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” for it either. But that isn’t a problem. In fact, in order to stay true to its roots, a colorful, nostalgic crowd-pleaser is all it should be.
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