“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” – Jump Up, Super Star!


Universal Pictures

Though flawed, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” still makes for a very fun viewing experience.

There is no genre of film more heavily criticized than video game adaptations. While there have been some excellent examples of the genre done right in recent years, such as Netflix’s “Castlevania” series and HBO’s “The Last of Us,” ever since the commercial and critical failure of the original 1993 “Super Mario Bros.” film there has been an unequivocal level of scrutiny leveled against video game movie adaptations. So it is needless to say that many brows were raised when it was announced that another attempt at creating a “Super Mario” film would be helmed by Illumination Animation of all options; the studio behind the “Despicable Me” films, which is infamous for its cheap animation style and incredibly simple stories. Further ire was raised when it was revealed that the main cast of the film would be filled with a number of celebrities in strange roles, including Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong, Keegan-Michael Key as Toad, and Chris Pratt as the voice of the goomba-stomping Italian-American plumber himself. Despite this, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” manages to rise above its odds thanks to a number of factors, and likely stands as Illumination’s best film to date.

To get the criticisms out of the way first, the story of “Super Mario” does not really rise above Illumination’s usual fare. Though it is neat that the film decides to avoid the usual trope of saving a captured Princess Peach usually found in the games, with the focus instead being about Mario rescuing his brother Luigi after they are separated following their arrival in the Mushroom Kingdom, the quality of the actual script just is not there. Though this is not a huge deal, as it is a movie aimed at younger children, the film rarely lingers on any emotional or character-developing moments, instead preferring to quickly jump from one video game-referencing scene to the next. The performances, which were the other large point of contention, turned out to not be that bad. With the exception of a few, such as Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong, which is plainly bad, and Chris Pratt’s Mario, which is serviceable for what it is, nearly everyone does quite well. Particular standouts include Charlie Day as the timid, yet determined Luigi and Jack Black as the powerful, charismatic, yet ultimately pathetic Bowser.

Though “Super Mario” unfortunately has some rough edges, there are three areas in which it truly shines: the animation, directing, and soundtrack. This is Illumination’s most expensive film to date, with a budget of $100 million, and this really shows. The animation lacks the studio’s usual flat and rubbery look and instead has tons of little details that stand out, from amazing looking textures to the inclusion of many small background details that reference various aspects of the video game series. This is paired quite excellently with the directing, which uses a variety of dynamic camera movements and shot compositions—also not usual to Illumination’s films—that allow you to really take the animation in and feel the pace during action scenes. Lastly, the soundtrack is a joy to listen to, primarily consisting of all-new arrangements of themes from the games that add a lot to the experience. Though there are some questionable uses of licensed music, for the most part these positive aspects outweighed any of the issues I had with the film and make for a very fun viewing experience, as long as you do not go in with too many expectations.

I quite enjoyed “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” and I am not the only one. As of April 19, the film has grossed over $725 million worldwide and broken a number of box office records, including biggest opening weekend for an animated film and highest-grossing film based on a video game. I think by now we can safely say that the so-called “video game movie curse” has been broken, and I look forward to what the industry has in store for us next. Those interested in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” can currently see it in theaters.