The curse of the video game movie seems over. A string of successful hits turned around the genre in the past few years. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, Uncharted, and Mortal Kombat all landed positive praise. The Last of Us just dominated television. However, none of these hold a candle to the worldwide appeal of Super Mario. Thirty years after the original film, the world’s favorite plumbers return to the big screen. Leaning heavily into nostalgia The Super Mario Bros. Movie delivers fun action sequences. However, an over-reliance on Easter Eggs and pop music dampens the fun.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie 2023
(from left) Mario (Chris Pratt), Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) in Nintendo and Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie, directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic.

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, The Super Mario Bros. Movie follows the titular brothers as they begin an unusual adventure. Trying to kickstart their fledgling business, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) dive into the sewers. Their local Brooklyn neighborhood is flooding, and when they get down to the pipes, they are sucked into another world. When the nefarious Bowser (Jack Black) captures Luigi, Mario learns how to beat the King Koopa with the help of Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). Their adventure takes them throughout the Mushroom Kingdom and Kong Kingdom.

The animation from Illumination takes a giant step up from the Minions films. The Mushroom Kingdom bursts to life with effervescent colors. These designs help sell us to the world. At times, The Super Mario Bros. Movie overuses the side scroller blocks. However, the settings usually make sense. Too much time is spent in our “real world,” which ultimately hurts the movie. These designs, while loaded with Easter Eggs, are far less visually intriguing.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie 2023

The visuals do an excellent job of helping to build out the world. Luckily The Super Mario Bros. Movie opts for show rather than tell for most of these moments. As characters gain new power-ups and skills, the directors communicate the changes through action set pieces and montages. Even showing a horde of Yoshis run through the background helps the world build.

However, the constant use of Easter eggs undermines some of these moments. Accents, costumes, and tech all comes straight from the games. The Super Mario Bros. Movie often becomes too self-aware for its own good. Undermining the feelings of its characters becomes somewhat commonplace. Even mushrooms catch stray bullets from the protagonist.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie 2023
(from left) Mario (Chris Pratt) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) in Nintendo and Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie, directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic.

Simultaneously, Illumination returns to an odd problem they’ve developed across their films. Simply labeling a character as cute, and using that as a joke, feels more like a formula than a genuine comedic moment. The Super Mario Bros. Movie takes that issue to the extreme, with at least three characters using “cute” or “adorable” as the punchline. It might not be so glaring if this issue did not cross franchises, including Despicable Me, The Grinch, and Sing.

The vocal performances greatly vary in quality, but overall the ensemble keeps us engaged. Taylor-Joy’s Peach feels off at times but also steals the film for stretches. This comes, in part, because of how the screenwriters clearly use Super Princess Peach as inspiration. Black easily wins the movie with his growling, comedic, and menacing Bowser. He will, and should, be the takeaway for most. Pratt and Day get to drop the caricature accents, but even then, Pratt struggles. Day brings chaos to Luigi, which undeniably works.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie 2023

Perhaps the most glaring issue that stands out in The Super Mario Bros. Movie comes in the form of source music. Boasting a soundtrack with a half dozen extremely well know pop hits makes little sense. Super Mario long established the best soundtrack in the video game world. The tracks are iconic in their own right. It’s odd to go this route with the music.

Despite some issues, The Super Mario Bros. Movie will work for many. It’s a mostly clean adaptation of the game and delivers on its promises. Many will find real joy in simply seeing these images on the big screen and watching the powersets develop. With sequels clearly planned, this will not be our last stop at the Mushroom Kingdom, and how the series develops from here should determine the success of a potential Nintendo Animated universe.

Alan’s Rating: 6/10

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