Review: Illumination’s ‚Super Mario Bros. Movie‘ Left-A-Me So Happy

Review: Illumination’s ‚Super Mario Bros. Movie‘ Left-A-Me So Happy

by Manuel São Bento
April 14, 2023

The Super Mario Bros. Movie Review

Illumination Entertainment isn’t exactly an animation studio I appreciate that much. From their animation style to their various movies made before this year, I was never really convinced by the company, especially when it comes to being able to make some of the best animated flicks of the year. That said, my expectations for The Super Mario Bros. Movie remained incredibly high during all of these months of anticipation leading up to its release. Neither the divisive critics‘ reception nor the permanent doubt surrounding the voice cast reduced the enormous excitement I had for this film. And I was right to stay true to my feelings.

For those who have been following my writing for some time already, you know that I always begin by trying to place any readers in my own shoes. Regardless of the type of film, I argue that any critic should make this effort, otherwise, they risk losing the reader’s understanding. It’s impossible to write something about The Super Mario Bros. Movie without first explaining my connection to the source material. In the case of this adaptation, it’s not just a Mario game, but countless Nintendo games, characters, and worlds.

I’ve noticed a more repetitive use of the expression „remove the nostalgia glasses“, especially to bring down movies and, in many cases, invalidate and diminish more positive opinions. The truth is that nostalgia is a term associated with the past, but in my particular situation, Mario and Nintendo are still in my present. Every year, without exception, my brothers and I pull the Nintendo 64 out of our parents‘ basement, blow the dust off, and spend hilariously unforgettable hours playing Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and more.

In addition to this experience, new games featuring Mario and his friends continue to be developed and released for modern video game consoles. Therefore, criticizing The Super Mario Bros. Movie for being a film that heavily relies on the nostalgia factor is such a predictable, cheap negative argument that, for many viewers, just won’t make any sense. Another issue commonly associated with this type of adaptation is related to misleading expectations. In my 29 years of life, I’ve never played a Mario game for its story. Not me, not anyone, because it was never a series with that purpose.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie contains a generic, formulaic story that brings absolutely nothing new to the world of animation. The messages for kids are simple and fairly straightforward, none of which will change anyone’s life. The narrative structure follows the most obvious path without major surprises, focusing on the typical adventure of an unexpected hero against a cliched villain with world-domination motivations. All of these are more than valid reasons for someone to not enjoy the movie. My question is: what did you expect?!

Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic and screenwriter Matthew Fogel didn’t deceive anyone, delivering precisely what was asked of them: an entertaining flick with characters and worlds that marked and continue to mark multiple generations. Bashing a movie as vehemently as I’ve seen critics doing when it accomplishes all that it promises is, to say the least, strange. Obviously, no one expected a masterpiece, and The Super Mario Bros. Movie is far from being one, but that was never its purpose. The main mission was to please the target audience, which, as the box office numbers prove, was more than successful.

Claiming The Super Mario Bros. Movie is generic is something that could be written even before watching the film, like many other superficial, „easy“ criticisms thrown at an adaptation that at no time planned to be more than pure entertainment for children of all ages and families of all sizes, as well as for all those who consider Mario and Nintendo important parts of their lives. Personally, „removing the nostalgia glasses“ means erasing a large part of my life, past and present, as well as my personality. It’s simply not possible.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Illumination’s animation style turns out to be one of the highlights. Initial concerns are quickly forgotten due to the visual quality that surrounds the entire movie. The world-building is phenomenal, with reference after reference to so many Nintendo games worked into every frame, but anyone who thinks these are forcibly „thrown“ in the viewer’s faces is entirely wrong. It’s all part of the narrative, and the way they insert the various elements from the games is to be commended. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is undoubtedly a love letter to all of Nintendo’s immersive, playful worlds.

From action set pieces to leave viewers grinning from ear to ear – the Donkey Kong fight scene, Mario Kart racing sequence, blocks/obstacles training montage – to the iconic music that Brian Tyler mixes brilliantly into his wonderful score, The Super Mario Bros. Movie left me astonished and sent chills all over my body during several moments, especially in the more energetic second half. This kind of humor is precisely what makes me laugh the most, with Mario’s classic expressions being used in quite a hilarious manner.

The cast was another aspect that resulted in division at the time of its announcement, which is yet another thing I’ll never understand. Complaining about an actor’s casting before even knowing how they will play the character? It doesn’t make any sense, and the truth is that the cast is even better than I expected. Personal favorites are Charlie Day (as Luigi) and Jack Black (as Bowser), but everyone delivers excellent performances. Anya Taylor-Joy has a lot of screen time as Peach and proves to be up to the challenge, and I don’t understand why there was so much buzz around Chris Pratt. The actor is perfectly decent as Mario.

Ignoring people who don’t want the actor’s success for external reasons, I understand those who might be disappointed that Mario doesn’t have that original, recognizable voice from all four corners of the planet. However, one must be aware that Mario was never a dialogue-heavy character. In the games, Mario rarely speaks, expressing himself only through his overly-stereotypical Italian reactions. I imagine that having to listen to this voice for an entire movie wouldn’t be that pleasant, as it could easily become insufferable.

Therefore, I believe The Super Mario Bros. Movie made the right decision in the end to choose actors with „normal voices“ to play all of the characters. Mario’s classic expressions are taken directly from the games, so these moments won’t be ruined in any way. As mentioned before, the story isn’t a problem for me at all. In fact, I believe it has a lot more heart than many people have been conveying. What did affect me were some pop music choices that left me baffled – I don’t think they belong in the Nintendo universe – and the first half has some pacing issues, wasting too much time to get to where it needs to go.

By this time, The Super Mario Bros. Movie has already broken dozens of box office records and will become one of the most successful animation flicks ever made. Personally, I couldn’t be happier, as the chances of watching other Nintendo stories in the big screen have increased exponentially – I’ll be the first in line to see an adaptation of The Legend of Zelda! May they continue to conquer audiences all over the world!

Final Thoughts

The Super Mario Bros. Movie delivers everything I wanted. Packed with fantastic references that will warm the hearts of those who lived and still live with Nintendo and Mario up close. Along with energetic action, dazzling animation and world-building, and iconic music – Brian Tyler’s score goes straight into my Spotify playlist. Mario and Co. marked my childhood, and, still today, continue to offer me wonderful memories for life. As a viewer clearly belonging to the target audience, I couldn’t have left the cinema more joyful. Ya-hoo!

Manuel’s Rating: A-
Follow Manuel on Twitter – @msbreviews / Or Letterboxd – @msbreviews

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