When I first heard that a Super Mario Bros Movie was in development by Illumination, I was very worried about the end result. After all, Illumination are the company known for the Minions movies and the Secret Life of Pets, and Nintendo is known for taking barely any risks at all with the Mario IP.
Add this to a shaky history of Mario adaptations in the past (with things like the live action movie and Super Show being from mediocre to godawful), and there was a lot going against this movie. In fact, even with the trailers making me optimistic, there was always still a fear something would go wrong in one way or another.
But I’m happy to say, that’s not the case. In fact, the Super Mario Bros Movie is a surprisingly good film overall, and by far the best adaptation the Mario franchise has ever gotten. So in this review I’m going to explain why this is, and why this is a must see for every Nintendo fan out there.
Starting with the animation. Put simply, it looks gorgeous.
Yeah, it’s been said a lot we know. Indeed, with the original trailers looking as incredible as they do, it can almost seem hard to imagine the film could look any better, or that they could keep that level of detail going for the entire runtime.
But keep it going they do indeed, and it genuinely puts many of even Pixar’s best works to shame as a result. From the streets of Brooklyn to the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser’s Castle to the DK Island like Jungle Kingdom, the world looks absolutely gorgeous all around, with some incredible setpieces and amazing background details to take in.
And the characters are really well done here too. Oh sure, they don’t always look amazing in still images. Like with that infamous Mario poster a while back.
Yet they don’t need to, since they look incredible in motion. Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser… they’re all really expressive in the film, and their designs completely sell the characters in context as a result.
So as far as visuals are concerned, Illumination and Nintendo have absolutely nailed it here. It’s Mario through and through, just with a level of production quality that puts even the likes of Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Super Mario Odyssey to shame.
Meanwhile the sound design is arguably even better, with the music and sound effects invoking the feel of a Mario adventure almost perfectly. Indeed, throughout the movie composer Brian Taylor somehow crams more references and callbacks into the score than you’d ever think possible, with games both well known and obscure being included in that list. Luigi’s Mansion? Yeah, that gets a few nods here. Donkey Kong Country? Oh hell yeah, the entire Jungle Kingdom section of the movie is DKC fanservice up to eleven. Bowser’s Fury? Surprisingly yes, and in such a prominent part of the film that you’d almost think I was lying if I described it.
Yet despite all these musical nods and callbacks, it never feels forced here. With a few exceptions we’ll get into later, the music always fits the scene, and accompanies the action on screen perfectly as a result. So some serious kudos has to be given here, especially when it comes to standouts like Peaches (Jack Black’s singing scene as Bowser) and the credits theme (which is an incredible Mario medley that remixes dozens of awesome songs from the series’ past).
As for the voice acting, well I was actually pleasantly surprised there. Oh sure, Chris Pratt’s Mario doesn’t sound like Charles Martinet’s version from the games.
But it was never meant to, and the toned down portrayal here actually fits perfectly with what the film is going for. It’s subtle, it’s down to earth and its very similar to Pratt’s normal accent, yet it works fine with Mario’s character in the film, and you generally get used to it about 10 minutes in.
And the other characters are generally done well too. Charlie Day does a great job as Luigi, managing to make him sound both loyal and cowardly with ease. Anya Taylor Joy is good as Peach, with a serious yet likeable portrayal that makes you want to see her win the day.
While Jack Black’s version of Bowser is about as good as you could ever imagine, and genuinely might put the game’s version to shame in many respects.
Same goes with the other cast members too. Donkey Kong, Toad, Spike, Kamek… for the most part they all sound as good as you’d hope them to, and you’re never left focusing on their new voice actors as a result.
So for the most part, the sound design for this film works wonders.
However, there are a few issues here and there. Firstly, Cranky Kong’s voice is… inconsistent to say the least.
Yeah, it’s not bad, and in some places it actually sounds exactly like what you’d hope it would.
But in others it comes across as very fake overall, and way too generic for a character this iconic. So I was left a tad disappointed there.
And I was also left a tad disappointed by some of the real world song inclusions too, since they also replaced a few amazing remixes that arguably would have fit even better. Such as this awesome Donkey Kong Country remix that was originally played during the Gatekeeper Kong scene:
Take On Me isn’t a bad choice for this scene, it’s just the song above fits it even better if you ask me.
Still, it’s not a big deal nonetheless. Plus given that the cut songs are on the soundtrack CD, you could probably just mute the relevant scene in the film and play the associated track if you feel that works better than the movie version.
But yeah, the sound side works well. The music’s good, the voices are good, and Chris Pratt’s version of Mario actually works well in context. How about the story itself then?
Well, it’s basically what you’d expect from a Mario movie. You’ve got the bros as everyman plumbers in Brooklyn who discover a portal to the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser trying to take over the world and marry Peach and you’ve got the bros eventually defeating him to save everyone from the tyrant’s schemes.
It’s a simple setup, and it’s basically a mix of the Super Show meets Super Mario Odyssey with a bit of Donkey Kong Country thrown in the middle.
But come on, what were you expecting to happen here? It’s a Mario movie. You know, Mario.
The series whose basic plot is mostly the same in every main series installment. The fact this one has Foreman Spike and Brooklyn in it, or has the Kong characters in it, or has the plot twist we won’t spoil at the end already puts it above most of the main series platformers in that regard.
And it’s not some super deep plot you’re going to be watching the movie for. No, it’s seeing how the characters get through this story. Seeing how they deal with their problems, what sort of awesome throwbacks they included this time around, and chuckling at all the visual gags and jokes littered throughout.
With the latter being one of the most amazing parts of the whole experience. Indeed, in the Brooklyn scene alone, you have:
- A diner filled with Punch-Out references, including framed photos of half the boxers
- A character based on the arcade Mario design, actually voiced by Charles Martinet
- Foreman Spike playing a major role, complete with a badge saying ‘Wrecking Crew’ on it
- Luigi’s ringtone being the GameCube start up sound
- Plus a whole scene where the bros run through a construction site with the same layout as level 1-1 in the original Super Mario Bros, complete with a business shaped like the fortress at the end of the level right afterwards
That’s like what, ten minutes of the movie? Maybe even less?
Yet it’s got enough small jokes and references to leave this die hard Nintendo fan grinning from ear to ear, and it doesn’t let up from there. If you’re a Mario fan, or hell, a Nintendo fan in general, this film is going to be absolute blast to watch just because of these jokes and throwbacks alone.
If you’re not… well, the movie does a surprisingly good job of being a fun watch even as a complete outsider to the source material. Oh sure, you won’t get who Foreman Spike is, or understand who half the Kongs are in the background of the Jungle Kingdom shots.
But you don’t need to. You just get a fun story with charming characters and amusing moments made better by the expressive character designs and fluid action scenes.
And as someone who watched it with a friend who wasn’t exactly a die hard Mario fan (or at least hadn’t played many of the games since the N64 era), they enjoyed it a ton because of that. They didn’t get every reference and callback, but they didn’t need to in order to enjoy the movie.
It’s also a very brisk movie too. You go to a lot of different areas and meet lots of new characters in each one, but you don’t spend too long in any one area or another.
So the Brooklyn part, the Mushroom Kingdom part, the Jungle Kingdom part, etc all get introduced and moved on from as quickly as they come.
Yet despite this, it somehow never really feels rushed. Sure, you don’t spend half an hour in any one specific place or another like you might in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.
But you also don’t feel like you’re being shooed on too quickly either. It feels like a movie with zero filler, where things are introduced just enough to work in the story, but without dragging them out past their necessary runtime.
It’s not like many a Doctor Who season finale where plot points are brought up and dropped in quick succession, and a deus ex machina is used to save everyone at the end. Or certain James Bond films like Quantum of Solace, where a flurry of jump cuts and camera changes are used to try and mask a story with a 5 second attention span. Or heck, something like the last level in Super Mario Sunshine, where your entire adventure is concluded in two poorly designed rooms and a mediocre boss fight.
And I believe the difference is that nothing important gets introduced and dropped in minutes. You don’t just go to the Jungle Kingdom, meet Donkey Kong and Cranky Kong, and then never see them again.
No, they keep appearing throughout the film in different parts of the story, and get the chance to develop as characters even with the scenery changing every few minutes and the story moving at a breakneck pace. Everyone gets their story told to the fullest, even if other films might have dropped and forgotten about them along the way.
So as far as the story goes, it works well here. It’s not the most complex setup in the world (and a keen Mario fan will probably guess what’s going to happen in at least a few of the scenes), but it’s a good simple Mario plot, and one which makes for a fun watch for both Nintendo fans and non fans alike.
Overall, the Super Mario Bros Movie is a good one, and the best adaptation the series has had in years. It’s not the most complex plot overall and there are a few small issues with certain voice actors, but it’s a good film nonetheless, and a fun watch for both fans and non fans alike.
Definitely check it out if you haven’t seen it already! It’s well worth it!