“Mamma Mia!” The Super Mario Movie is officially here and audiences are absolutely pumped. My showing was on the film’s opening night; any experienced moviegoer knows that this is not exactly a high-traffic window for most theaters. However, given the level of anticipation for this movie from both children and adults alike, I was not remotely surprised to see the number of full seats that I did.
The Super Mario Bros. franchise as a whole dates back 40 years, with the very first arcade game featuring the iconic pair of paisan plumbers debuting in April 1983. Since then, the duo have appeared in a seemingly endless amount of video games, spread between multiple Nintendo series. Mario and Luigi have even starred in some animated series and a pair of previous feature films (unrelated to this 2023 installment) over the years. Because of this, the target audience for The Super Mario Bros. Movie spans from adults in their 40s and 50s to children 10 and under.
You didn’t come here for a history lesson, though. No, if you chose to check out this review, there’s a strong likelihood you’ve logged enough hours playing Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. over the years that you could teach a course on it. You came here to find out if this movie does the source material justice, or if Chris Pratt’s choice of accent will completely ruin your experience. So, let’s just get right into it.
*Warning: Spoilers for the Super Mario Movie ahead*
So, you know that thing I mentioned above about Chris Pratt’s accent possibly ruining this movie for people? I was projecting a bit there; because that’s what I personally felt might happen for me ever since his being cast as Mario was announced. At first, I thought to myself, “Oh god, is he going to try to imitate the video game voice? That would make me angry.” Like, angrier than it should because, as a proud Italian, I’ve never really had any issue with over-the-top spoofs of the accent. I actually find a lot of them funny, to be honest.
Then, we got our trailer and actually heard Chris Pratt voicing Mario…in what sounded like his normal voice. It was at that point that I wondered if we were going to get Mario running around in the Mushroom Kingdom talking just like Chris Pratt—which would have been bad in a completely different way.
Fortunately, we wound up getting something incredibly cool and unique that I felt worked really well—Mario and Luigi (Charlie Day) are just two ordinary brothers from…Brooklyn. Yeah, that Brooklyn. Where the Nets play. Pratt even mixes in an honest attempt at a New York accent, while Day pretty much sounds like himself.
Right away, I knew that I loved the premise of the story: Mario and Luigi have just started their own plumbing business and spend their life savings on an over-the-top commercial (where we do indeed hear the classic video game accents, but ironically) to try to gain some new clientele.
Like most Italian-Americans in their early-to-mid 20s, they live at home with their parents—because Italian mothers never want their kids to move out and would keep them at home forever if they could.
After their first big plumbing job goes hilariously wrong, and Mario is scolded by his father for “dragging his little brother down with him,” he retreats into his bedroom. These moments in the early stages of the film might be the most relatable this character ever has or ever will be—they make him an ordinary kid chasing a dream and trying to make a name for himself!
I absolutely love this twist on Mario and Luigi’s story. Without revealing too much, the duo are mysteriously sucked into the magical world of the video game that we know and love. Unfortunately, though, as we already knew from the trailers, they then become separated.
“Does Nintendo have a villain problem?” Nope, not at all!
While of course our focus is on the titular duo, the supporting characters in this film get a ton of shine. There is no mystery as to who the chief antagonist of the story is. Bowser (Jack Black) opens our film doing exactly what we saw him trying to do in trailers—trying to take over the entire world—and the Mushroom Kingdom is next on his list.
This iteration of Bowser channels vintage Jack Black, with comedic beats that only he can pull off. The real motivation behind his conquest? He’s head over heels for Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy)! The way this plays out is absolutely hysterical, believe me.
Bowser essentially sees Mario as a threat to his attempts to win Princess Peach’s heart, and this jealousy manifests itself in some hilarious quips and one-liners. Bowser holding Luigi hostage is the whole basis behind Mario and Princess Peach’s quest in the first place; Luigi being a prisoner for the majority of the film is kind of a bummer, but it’s really the only way to make the story work, so I get it.
We have a Warrior Princess (not Xena, though)
Speaking of Princess Peach, this is no damsel in distress. We got a pretty good sense that this would be the case in trailers, and it definitely plays out this way in the film. After Mario lands in the Mushroom Kingdom and fills Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) in on his predicament, he’s told that the Princess is the only person who can help him.
The Princess happens to be on her way to seek out allies in her impending battle against Bowser (she has no clue yet that he’s in love with her, and her reaction when she eventually finds out is priceless), and agrees to let Mario accompany her if he passes a test. The test is basically the exact gameplay of the Super Mario Bros. video games, and explains the existence of power-ups, how people can jump so high, so on and so forth.
We also find out that the Princess herself is unsure of her exact origin, which may or may not come up in the inevitable sequel this franchise will spawn (Super Smash Bros. Cinematic Universe anyone?). Bottom line, though? She’s a total badass.
Welcome to the Jungle (Kingdom)
Our introductions to both Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) are also fantastic and full of references to the gameplay of that iconic Nintendo franchise. We also get the briefest of cameos from Diddy Kong, who is otherwise not involved in our story.
The irony of the reluctant partnership between Mario and Donkey Kong, who are both depicted as disappointments in the eyes of their respective fathers, is not lost on the viewer. The theme of fortifying familial relationships is at the very core of this film.
Rogen is his usual sarcastic and funny self with this iteration of Donkey Kong. He’s strong, don’t worry. I don’t think we’ll see complaints online like “OMG they nerfed Donkey Kong just like Marvel did with the Hulk!”
But as strong as the powerful Donkey Kong is, he’s also kind of brash and arrogant, not to mention a bit of a screw-up. Seeing him and Mario get past their differences, use some power-ups, and endure obstacle after obstacle trying to rescue their loved ones in the film’s final act is a ton of fun.
As this film’s premiere date grew closer, viewers were gifted with teaser trailers that depicted another uber popular aspect of Super Mario Bros.—Mario Kart! Often with adaptations of this nature, there’s a concern from fans and/or critics that the film’s writers or the studio will try to cram in as many references to the IP as humanly possible, regardless of their place in the story.
I’m happy to report that the introduction of these vehicles is anything but, fitting organically during the characters’ quest to make it back to the Mushroom Kingdom in time to fend off Bowser.
So many of the classic Mario Kart trademarks are present, such as cars slipping on banana peels, the beloved rainbow track, running into obstacles that can impede your progress—the whole nine yards. This fun sequence is what ultimately leads to the conclusion of our story.
Who doesn’t love a happy ending??
I know that this is a spoiler-filled review, but I still don’t want to give away too much about the movie’s ending. What I will say, though, is that things wrap up nicely by resolving the familial issues we touched on before.
Luigi’s faith that his big brother will always be there for him is rewarded. Mario and Donkey Kong each get the satisfaction they’ve long sought—recognition from their fathers. Princess Peach is able to save the toads, the only family she’s ever known, from Bowser’s wrath. And Bowser…well, he gets stood up at the altar by Peach, so he’s pretty much the only loser here.
Considering how many kids are going to ask their parents to see this film (or, more accurately, how many parents are going to “tag along” to see favorite video game characters), I think the heavy layering of family themes is incredibly appropriate.
We get a feel-good story chock-full of laughs and smiles, as well as themes that adult audiences will be able to appreciate. The audience score you see on Rotten Tomatoes? It’s very much justified—everyone walked out of that theater clapping.
Final takeaways from Super Mario Movie
I went into the Super Mario Movie expecting to be entertained, so it’s not like I left the theater surprised by any means. I’ve played the games since as far back as I can remember, have a ton of respect for the star-studded voice cast, and I tend to really enjoy video game adaptations in general. But this particular twist on the source material, the emphasis on familial themes, and the fact that I left the theater wanting more definitely caused my overall expectations to be surpassed. I genuinely urge you to check out this movie. You’ll have a blast, I promise.
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'The Super Mario Bros.' Movie Review'The Super Mario Bros.' Movie Review
- Tremendous voice cast
- Feel good moments
- References to the IP are perfectly sprinkled in
- Great humor
- Not enough Luigi screen time
- No Yoshi 🙁
- Could have been a bit longer!