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The Super Mario Bros. Movie, featuring the vocal talents of Chris Pratt, Seth Rogen, Anya Taylor-Joy and Jack Black
Trailer: Universal / Illumination

The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic
Rated PG
Played 5 April 2023

The wit’s not as sharp as the Minions, but The Super Mario Bros. Movie is still a winning video game adaptation that’ll keep the younger kids entertained.

Mamma Mia!

The Super Mario Bros. Movie poster

It’s taken 30 long years for the Mario Bros. to return to the big screen after the live-action debacle starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo. Thankfully, that almost forgotten misstep is in the deep past. In the here and now, this new adventure’s colorful animated chaos gets off to a really strong start.

Blue penguins defend their Ice Kingdom against the big turtle baddie, Bowser. They’re packing a whole lot of attitude and they’re packing heat. Well, snowballs.

It doesn’t end well for the penguins as Bowser levels one kingdom after another in his quest for two simple things: world domination and Princess Peach’s hand in marriage.

Cut to Brooklyn and a TV commercial for Super Mario Bros. Plumbing. It’s a smart, funny (and low budget) advertisement that perfectly introduces Mario and Luigi and one of the movie’s primary conceits: they’re a couple guys in New York struggling to start their own plumbing business.

Plumbers wearing white gloves? What’s up with that? Well, it’s a marketing gimmick intended to make the brothers stand out in a crowded marketplace. But even Mario’s wondering if they went a little too far with their overdone Italian accents.

And with that, the movie deftly lays to rest early criticisms about Chris Pratt being cast to voice Mario. A few years ago, fan outrage over Sonic’s appearance was volatile enough for the production to go back and retool the character before releasing the movie. No such changes here. Pratt does a fine job voicing everybody’s favorite Italian(-American) plumber.

It’s a shame their first plumbing gig turns into a disaster. But, in the thick of disaster, the brothers find opportunity. A really, really humungous opportunity to save kingdoms and a princess from one bad-shell turtle.

Save Brooklyn!

In those early scenes introducing Mario and Luigi, along with their extended family, a lot of ideas are quickly teed up. The two brothers quit their day job to pursue the Italian-American dream, running their own business. Luigi lives in fear. The two value each other and teamwork. Mario absolutely hates mushrooms. And, on top of all of that, Mario — in the early going — is repeatedly derided as being a nobody. Princess Peach is asked, “Who is he?” She responds, “He’s... NOT important!”

Of course, all of these ideas lead to a pay-off in some form or fashion, but in this fast-paced movie world that mimics the pacing of Nintendo’s ubiquitous gaming experiences, these pay-offs are merely an afterthought, an obvious part of the endgame. The Super Mario Bros. Movie could’ve been elevated to “truly great” status had it spent a tiny little bit more time playing off those early ideas and more deeply incorporated them as character- and narrative-building components.

As it stands, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is dazzling, breezy entertainment that feels more and more like a Nintendo video game as the characters careen toward their final confrontation. Yeah, it’s a mega boss battle situation.

With the introduction of one famous Nintendo character after another, the playing field gets crowded, but there’s still enough room to give each star — Mario (Pratt), Luigi (Charlie Day), Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), Bowser (Jack Black), Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and more — their moments to shine. And what would a Mario movie be without karts? This movie’s got loads of karts.


Nintendo and Illumination managed to pull together a solid team — going beyond the voice talent — to make this movie happen. The opening scenes quickly signal to nervous fans everything’s going to be okay as Matthew Fogel (screenwriter of Minions: The Rise of Gru and The Lego Movie 2) and co-directors Aaron Horvath (Teen Titans GO! To the Movies) and Michael Jelenic (with a deep background in DC’s animated fare) set the tone and the stage with a long bench of likable characters — even Donkey Kong has his amiable side while Peach proves herself to be the most strong-willed princess since Leia.

Granted, it’s not perfect. At times, it feels a little like a CGI pummeling designed to hold the attention of those with a deficit disorder. Plus, the weakest link is Bowser. The problem’s not so much Jack Black, but the some of the goofiness of the characterization. Here, Bowser’s a mishmash whose villainy is offset by loads of insecurities and a penchant to sit at a grand piano and make like he’s Meatloaf singing a power ballad. Doesn’t quite work, but it’s still amusing.

But, that said, the Meatloaf aspect is curiously fitting when set alongside the movie’s soundtrack, which features rock and pop tracks circa the era of the enormously popular Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

• Originally published at

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