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‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ Sure Is a Movie

Yep, this is a kids' flick.

3:26 PM CDT on April 4, 2023

Universal Pictures/Nintendo|

‘Super Mario Bros. Movie’

When that first Super Mario Bros. Movie trailer was released last winter, it became clear that grownups were having feelings about it. 

Chris Pratt’s Mario voice was no Charles Martinet. Princess Peach had been girl-bossed. Rainbow Road is woke and will turn kids gay. Where was Yoshi? Would the movie be a fan-service cash grab? (My dudes, why else would a Mario movie get made?)

Seeing the dustups, Mario movie distributor Universal, which just opened Super Mario World in Hollywood, reacted as any brand-protecting conglomerate would: by being weird to the media.

“In order to give fans around the world the opportunity to experience our movie to its fullest and allow them to discover it on their own, we respectfully ask that you as press refrain from revealing detailed story points in your coverage, including on social media,” warned Universal via the press invite. 

So no +1s were allowed at the Showplace ICON at West End press screening Monday night. There were no super fans or ticket winners in the audience. Just seven members of the local media and a friendly security guard. 

Within the first five minutes we knew exactly what we were in for: The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a movie made for kids, kept simple to allow for easy translation (both culturally and linguistically) across international markets. 

As for plot spoilers? There’s nothing to spoil: Two brothers from Brooklyn accidentally end up in the Mushroom Kingdom, where Bowser is up to his usual bullshit. Will the good guys save the day? 

There are no character arcs here. When we meet Mario and Luigi in their candy-colored corner of Brooklyn, their oddly all-adult family shames Mario for wrecking Luigi’s life; they’ve both quit their jobs to start a plumbing business together. (It’s never revealed what their lucrative careers were before. Plumbers make good money!) 

That’s a fine base for some character conflict, possible self-reflection, and (maybe!) even some life lessons, but after Mario leaves the table to sadly play some Nintendo in his bedroom, this never comes up again. Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) certainly never shows an iota of resentment, his faith in brotherly love never wavering. These are 8-bit characters (okay, N64 characters) living in a 3-D world.

But a ‘20s Mario Bros. movie could never be anything else. At the end of the day, Mario is a mascot—the Mickey of the Nintendo world. He can’t have complicated emotions or changes to his characterization—hell, he can’t even change his voice without risking brand stability. His only personality flaw here is that he has an innate desire to see things through. (Gasp!) Oh, there's one big reveal: He doesn’t like mushrooms.

The other characters are unwaveringly on brand, too. King Koopa (Jack Black) is a cruel mafia boss obsessed with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan) is a bro. Everyone looks like a toy brought to life. The only character who suffers from design flaws is Princess Peach, who has a mean case of Disney face. With her eyes taking up ¾ of her visage there’s not much room for her nose, mouth, and jaw, resulting in an over-reliance on eye-emoting that’s wonky at best, kinda horrifying at worst.

As for the voices, the movie's biggest controversy, they were…. fine. Pratt’s Mario sounds like a basic white dude, which makes sense considering Pratt was famously born in Virginia, Minnesota. Day’s Luigi sounds like a basic white dude. Rogan’s familiar cadence and speech patterns are gone. At one point I struggled to remember who was voicing Peach: Was is Jennifer Lawrence? Elizabeth Banks? Nope! It was Anya Taylor-Joy. But, in all fairness, I doubt I would have been able to recognize any of these voices if I hadn’t already seen the cast lineup. 

Yes, the world is beautiful, three dimensional, yet familiar. Yes, there are fun-enough moments of fan service, with nods to Donkey Kong, Mario Kart, and the infamous Tanooki suit (but alas, no Mario Golf or Dr. Mario). A nihilist Lumas from Mario Galaxy shows up, and it’s adorable. There are nods to the original arcade game, as well as more recent ventures, often set to orchestral takes on the original game scores or, inexplicably, mid-‘80s tunes like “Holding out for a Hero” and “Take on Me,” plus “Mr. Blue Sky.” 

All of that may be enough to entertain you, though it wasn’t for the man in my aisle who fell asleep immediately and snored loudly through the entire screening. Go in expecting something better than the Shrek sequels, but not as clever as Pokémon Detective Pikachu. It’s best to let the movie kick up enough nostalgia to keep you from thinking too hard about what's on the ground.

Oh, and if you think getting high first is gonna make it more entertaining—well, trust me, it won't.

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