Movie Review: “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” offers an overflowing amount of family entertainment, but at what cost? It sacrifices story to incorporate as much “Mario” as possible – for better or for worse.
I find the discourse around the inevitable and unabashedly trite movie aptly titled “The Super Mario Bros Movie” simultaneously amusing and hypocritical. It feels like just yesterday the public outcry from social media filmster accounts and representation groups were going to singlehandedly spell the doom for this video game adaption for failing to put voice actors into roles that captured the native vernacular of Mario and Luigi, among others. It felt like this movie had already hit snags before even lifting off the ground.
After all, Chris Pratt is notably not Italian American, Keegan-Michael Key isn’t an incremental mushroom, and Jack Black doesn’t come to mind when picturing a turtle-dinosaur mashup threatening to take over the world. I kid, but this legitimately felt like a major talking point in critics circles given that the industry had gone to great lengths to rectify past issues of equal representation on screen. Yes, I’m still talking about “The Super Mario Bros Movie,” but this stems far and wide to movies breaching many different genres.
So “The Super Mario Bros Movie” was playing at a disadvantage for months leading up to its trailers and inevitable release. Then, suddenly, public perception seemed to shift – and I’m still a bit baffled as to why. Maybe it’s because Illumination Studios is behind this blockbuster release. I’m not the biggest fan of the stories they’ve put out up to this point, but it’s clear they’ve struck a nerve with cutesy (but nice to look at) animation that appeals heavily towards a demographic younger than myself, and stories that capture the imaginations kids by combining lively animals and adventurous storytelling. Hell, they made miniature yellow beans that speak incoherently into a billion dollar franchise (for those of you reading at home that aren’t comprehending what I’m talking about, submit yourself to the wonderful world of “Minions” please).
Perhaps no one cared about representation anymore in “The Super Mario Bros Movie” because in our current era of everything constantly being refreshed and repackaged with very small changes, people just want that nostalgic boost into their systems. I get it, but to go from angry mobs with pitchforks to turning a Mario Bros film into the best selling video game adaptation ever is quite hilarious to me – funnier than anything actually in this easter-egg filled, story-less form of children’s entertainment.
I don’t want to be too harsh about a film that feels shockingly uninterested in being anything above the “Rick Dalton pointing at his television” GIF for adults and cheeky humor for kids, but the budget felt like it only went to the visual department on this one. Because for what it’s worth, the animation is quite beautiful and rich in “The Super Mario Bros Movie.” It felt every bit like a polished, big budget animated theatrical experience. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise given that the trailers and teasers offered the same pop in color that the final product delivers.
It doesn’t redefine the medium quite like some of the best looking features do in this space, but it stands out in comparison to many of Illumination’s other efforts that feel lacking in originality and use the same general elements that other larger studios do (I can’t watch “Sing” without picturing better DreamWorks movies, or the various Dr. Seuss films that pale in comparison to Fox Animation like “Horton Hears a Who!”).
For all the attention that the voice cast got prior to “Super Mario Bros” release date, I found their contributions quite bland and uninteresting across the board. I’m not going to put in more time commenting on Chris Pratt’s voice acting style than he seemed to do actually voice acting as Mario. It’s not very good, but I can’t say I was expecting it to be.
Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, and Seth Rogen round out the cast, along with the few that were mentioned above. The movie does take a slight notch up in quality and fun when Rogen enters as the frightening Donkey Kong, although maybe that’s just because he seems like the only one having fun and being given enough runaway to make any lasting impression. The movie that he’s in seems like a blast compared to the movie that Chris Pratt and Charlie Day are both in trying to comment in the ambitions of those in a middle-class Italian American household (not sure that one holds up in a MARIO movie).
The story of Bowser trying to win over the affection of Princess Peach honestly just feels like wallpaper to reference a heavy amount of different IP offerings that Mario has taken part of over the years. I don’t blame the creatives of “Super Mario Bros” much for this decision – after all, we live in a world of self-referential moviegoing dominated by Marvel movies for over a decade now. You can’t make IP movies without adding stingers and post-credit scenes, while constantly promising to build into something more.
Speaking of post-credit scenes, we get two of them. The first brings a joke home that I thought didn’t really work the first time around but has since grown into a cultural artifact. Yes, I’m talking about Jack Black tearing his soul open for a glowing rendition of “Peaches, Peaches, Peaches.” The second reveals a bit more so cover your eyes if you care so deeply about not having the final moments of “Super Mario Bros” spoiled for you, but Yoshi is on his way baby!
Simply put, this is in fact a “Super Mario Bros” movie. As a movie, it breaks every rule I have. There’s little integrity and it’s shamelessly just trying to sell tickets. At the same time, I’ll admit that I did exactly as the studio intended: I went and saw it, I wrote about it, and as I sit here and ponder, I can’t believe that I’ve given this much thought into a film that was clearly designed for kids 20 years younger than me. Go to it and shut your brain off. This has been my TED Talk.
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