By Jose Anguiano – Cinematic Bandicoot
April 9th, 2023
How ironic that the franchise that started the video game adaptation curse in 1993 received a second chance at redemption with the help of Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment.
But while audiences were satisfied with the final product, critics were less compassionate to “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and sparked another social media war.
As someone who played the games and watched all of Illumination’s filmography, this is one of their best movies after the enjoyable “Minions: The Rise of Gru”.
2023’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” enjoyed a lot of hype that every Illumination product receives thanks to Universal’s deep pockets, though not without controversy mainly surrounding Chris Pratt as the red plumber instead of the original voice actor, Charles Martinet.
Apparently, Shigeru Miyamoto himself chose Pratt as the lead, and to answer the question on everyone’s mind he is serviceable against the celebrities who disappeared into their characters. Sometimes he’s good and sometimes he’s Chris Pratt.
On a related note, Martinet voiced Mario’s father without the game’s accent which proved that he could have pulled off a satisfying voice performance.
Take it for what it’s worth, but Pratt does not measure up to Charlie Day as Luigi or Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong.
On the other hand, Jack Black as Bowser steals the show with his flaming intimidation and pathetic simping over Princess Peach.
His arrogant personality gets both laughs and jeers, his design is authentically detailed, and he is a formidable foe against the brothers.
These are the kinds of villains Disney expertly crafted until recently, which is saying a lot given how everyone gushed over Death from “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”.
A big shout out also goes to the underrated Kevin Michael Richardson as Kamek who receives the sharp end of Bowser’s stick.
Out of all the characters, the one miscast is Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong. The character is written well as an emperor of the Jungle Kingdom, but the performance does not match the elderly curmudgeon’s irritable mood. He sounds too young for the role as if the universe is set during his prime.
Some say the plot and characters are too simplistic. Part of that is true given that more than half the games relied on the tired damsel in distress plot, but the execution is its biggest strength. The simple story and characters make Mario and Luigi relatable as they start their own plumbing business in Brooklyn against their family’s wishes.
Mario and Donkey Kong’s frenemy-ship is perfectly captured from their initial battle to their eventual team up against the giant turtle, even if the rushed pacing skimmed over some genuine bonding moments.
But there is one crucial element that hampers the experience: Luigi is in another castle.
Day and Pratt have great chemistry when they act together in the beginning, but once they’re in the mushroom kingdom, they’re separated.
This is obviously done to give Mario a big incentive to stop Bowser outside of saving the Mushroom Kingdom, but by taking Luigi out of the equation, their bond is not as strong as, ironically, the 1993 film despite its infamous reputation.
Maybe if there’s a “Luigi’s Mansion” movie in the near future, he can get more character development.
At the very least, Princess Peach is justified in being more active in spite of all the people who complained about her being “woke”. Besides, what’s one movie against 12 games when it comes to “tradition”?
There’s also a couple of modern songs that pop up every now and then. While they’re not too intrusive, its baffling that the song “Take On Me” replaced a unique take on another classic Nintendo track when Mario, Peach, and Toad get a tour of the Kong Kingdom:
Another point of contention are the game’s references that people say is empty fan service, which is nonsense. Unlike “Scoob!”, the easter eggs in the background don’t overshadow the story, but instead add to the visual world building.
Plus, the advantage of adapting the series now compared to 30 years ago is that there’s more material to take inspiration from like “Super Mario Galaxy”, “Paper Mario” and “Donkey Kong Country”.
The animation continues to show why Illumination is one of the most sought-after studios.
For all the criticisms of not living up to their potential, they know how to adapt the art styles of Dr. Seuss and now they can add the world of Nintendo to their resume.
The way they contrast realistic human anatomy with the more stylized designs shows how they can assimilate with any style.
Some of the best timing in the animation can be found in Mario’s fight with Donkey Kong as they jump all over the Smash Bros. stadium utilizing powerups to get the jump on each other.
DK is a force to be reckoned with while Mario is quick witted on his feet when his punches don’t even leave a scratch.
Brian Tyler also brings Koji Kondo’s legacy of tracks to a whole new level whether adapting the 8-bit library, the 16-bit library or even some modern tracks. They’re grand, energetic and they elevate the action sequences, particularly one track during the final battle:
The big question is whether this is accessible to general audiences. Like “The Ratchet and Clank Movie”, the story is the hero’s journey 101 with little twists and turns.
This might be too simplistic after 2022 offered a plethora of animated movies like Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pinocchio” and “Turning Red”.
Perhaps this movie is laser focused on its 1993 course correction to the point of overlooking the general public, unlike “Angry Birds” or “Castlevania”.
Comparatively, this is a fan pleasing adventure that plays everything safe, which isn’t that different from Illumination’s other films besides Nintendo having more say on the matter.
Many will argue that adaptations like these need to be more accessible to others, but at this point, who hasn’t heard of “Super Mario Bros.”? It’s like trying to find someone who doesn’t know Mickey Mouse.
Otherwise, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is the best redemption arc for a franchise that brought a curse upon video game adaptations since the 1990s. This is also one of the few examples where Hollywood took a bad movie and revitalized it to its full potential, in addition to being one of Illumination’s better movies in their growing catalog.
While the casting has a few flaws and some of the story elements don’t work, there is tons of imagination, fast-paced action, smart comedy, and a passionate execution that know what its audience wants.
If you are a fan of the games, bring everyone you know who shares your enthusiasm for this series to the theater and have a great time. And to those who did not like this take on the Mushroom Kingdom, you’re welcome to rewatch the 1993 adaptation that left the late Bob Hoskins furious on how he suffered during production.
Now that Nintendo has their foot in theaters, an old rivalry will likely reignite for a new generation to experience as video game adaptations continue to grow in popularity.
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