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super-mario-bros-movie-mario-princess-peach-toad.jpg

'The Super Mario Bros. Movie' Is Fine

By Lindsay Traves | Film | April 5, 2023 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | April 5, 2023 |


super-mario-bros-movie-mario-princess-peach-toad.jpg

When The Last of Us hit small screens this year, a lot of videogame fans wondered whether it would follow the same storyline as the games did. Some loved its exact recreations, some loathed changes, some tapped out when they assumed it was a story they’d already played through. Adapting videogames to movies can go a lot of ways, and in the case of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, well, why overcomplicate things?

Chris Pratt leads as short-king, Mario. His casting didn’t come without controversy, but forgive me if I say he does an OK job. Mario and Luigi (Charlie Day) are Brooklyn local Italian Americans with a plumbing business they’re trying to get off the ground, lest they disappoint their strict father. After an opportunity to save Brooklyn from some wonky pipes, the brothers are sucked into one and pop out the other side in different locales of the videogame universe. In the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario teams up with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor Joy) to defeat Bowser (Jack Black), rescue Luigi, and save the kingdom. Yeah, basically like the games.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie isn’t adding a clever twist to the basic story like The Lego Movie, it’s a by-the-numbers predictable journey through Nintendo videogame worlds that lets Mario be the hero. And maybe that’s OK. It’s tight runtime and conventional approach to the story of Super Mario makes for easy watching and leaves space for other elements to add excitement. The animation plays fun games with the characters’ histories in 2D and 3D worlds and it adds some flavor to characters we’ve seen animated in increasingly complex ways. The “girl-bossing” of Peach doesn’t do much outside of giving Peach her in-game special skills, but allowing her to be a leader instead of a damsel in distress adds a bit of modern flare, albeit still within the confines of a safe adaptation. Her story gets some unsatisfying Turanga Leela spice that’s left unresolved which is perhaps part of the sequel setup dropped in the end credits scene.

The voice acting is sparkling enough, though some of the actors fade behind vanilla dialogue, videogame sound effects, and a smattering of obvious needle drops. Pratt (though still sounding a lot like Linda Belcher) must have done some homework because he adds a whisper of an Italian-American accent and slips seamlessly into Mario “wa-hoo”s. There’s an accent gag at the top that has a laugh at Mario’s changing accent and further confuses arguments about his name’s pronunciation based on his hometown. Day remains perfect as the bumbling and frantic sidekick, and he brings his charm to it in ways that further bolster why we all love Luigi.

Much like the plot, the comedy is also incredibly low stakes. No real risks are taken, save for the hilarious addition of a nihilistic Lumalee who brings some bizarre dark levity. A couple of moments will pluck laughs, and the best ones are where Mario himself is bested by things that would frustrate an average gameplayer who’d been using him as an avatar. What this movie is great at is getting smiles. It’s a joy to see Mario spew catchphrases and grow based on mushroom consumption. It’s a delight to get to wander into Peach’s castle and see a bevy of expendable side characters enter the frame. It’s a lark to hear the appropriate theme songs get laid atop familiar moments, especially when someone finally catches up with a star.

The Super Mario Bros. movie doesn’t break any molds or take any massive risks, but it’s a treat, nonetheless. It’s a low-stakes little cutie that fills a void in the shape of family-friendly movies. It’s neither the prestige adaptation of modern videogame media, nor is it the wacky and strange vibe of the property’s other live-action adaptions, it’s an animated turn that sees Mario doing what he does best. At points during the action sequences, it’s easy to lament the lack of any real danger in a world with infinite-lives rules, but that’d be to miss the point that this is a no-brainer treat that never tries to do anything more than send Mario and Luigi on another journey through some gravity-defying pipes.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie hits theaters April 5, 2023