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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Yes, ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ is good


For most of my viewing of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” I was in awe at its very existence.  I grew up playing almost exclusively Pokemon and Mario games, and even today the Mario series never ceases to delight me. To see the world that so captivated me as a child rendered with the level of care and detail in this movie was honestly exhilarating for me. And yes, though the movie has its faults, it is genuinely good.

Illumination’s animation in “Super Mario Bros.” is beautiful. The Mushroom Kingdom is pristine and glittering, painted with bold colors. The visuals never overstimulate to conceal shallowness. The scenes are thoroughly envisioned, and the multitude of easter eggs in the film rewards a second watch. The score throughout the film is great, with composer Brian Tyler successfully reworking classic Mario themes. The movie also features unexpected needle drops that work very well: “Holding Out for a Hero” is a delightful choice for a Mario parkour montage, and the use of “Thunderstruck” for a Mario Kart assembly scene is disarming and genuinely riveting. The voice acting in “Super Mario Bros.” is fantastic across the board. Jack Black is the obvious MVP of the cast as Bowser, unashamedly embracing the character’s extremes. Kevin Michael Richardson, who plays Bowser’s right-hand-man Magikoopa, is another highlight of the cast. As for Chris Pratt — the Internet didn’t need to worry. He fits well as Mario, and while he doesn’t steal the show like Black or Richardson, that’s also not his task here.  He’s the pilot of the movie, and he gives the audience a good ride. The weakest performances come from Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong and Anya Taylor-Joy as Peach. Both feel disconnected from their characters to some extent, especially Taylor-Joy, though she’s still emotive. There’s a veil between her and the movie’s world that’s difficult to describe, but the audience certainly feels the separation. The story that ties this attraction together, however, is lackluster. The audience learns Mario is motivated by his family’s disapproval, but this only matters for a few of the film’s slower moments, which are entirely unemotional for viewers. It is as if the screenwriter googled a list of character conflicts and threw parental disapproval into the script. As for Bowser, while his undying desire to marry Peach is accurate to the source material, the jokes it yields grow somewhat repetitive, and the rivalry this creates between him and Mario is juvenile. If Bowser had held some additional motivation for destroying the Mushroom Kingdom with which the audience could sympathize — perhaps could have been bad blood between the Kingdom and Bowser’s turtle tribe — then he would have been a more substantial and engaging villain for all audiences.

The movie makes up for its narrative weaknesses with its excellent world building and characters, along with consistently fun set pieces. The action is great throughout, especially Mario’s training session with its dynamic camera work around Mario’s jumps and flips. The constant references to lesser-known parts of Mario history are a joy for viewers in the know (and were so especially for me). The characterization of the main cast is spot-on in all cases, and even their small interactions are a joy. There is a bit of humor saved for older audience members with Luma, whose depressing and nihilistic jokes delightfully stand out from the rest of the world.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a festival, a loving celebration and a reintroduction of gaming’s greatest hero. As with the games it adapts, it makes up for what it lacks in drama with the joy of its action sequences and the charisma of its characters. It’s no masterpiece, but if you’ve been curious, it’ll certainly be worth your time.

Title: “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” Starring: Chris Pratt, Jack Black, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie DayDirectors: Aaron Horvath, Michael JelenicIf you like: The “Mario” gamesShamrocks: 3.5 out of 5