Movie Review: The Super Mario Bros. Movie

The first animated feature based on the beloved video-game series is a bit of a letdown, but kids will be pleased.


Let’s not forget: This might’ve been good.

It’s not bad, exactly. It’s okay. But “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is unambitious — fundamentally a movie for kids with easter eggs for longtime Nintendo devotees. It aims no higher than that. And the cynical thought would be clear: “Well, what do you want? It’s just a movie about Mario.”

But it might’ve been handled like “The LEGO Movie,” which inserted genuine humor and formal experimentation to overcome its commercial origins. It might’ve been approached the way Pixar has always approached the “Toy Story” films, searching for realities about childhood and adolescence in an innocent story. It might’ve even been approached like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” as an opportunity for innovative and memorable animation.

It doesn’t cost any more to aim high, after all, but that evidently wasn’t in the playbook.

Thirty years after the disastrous, live-action adaptation of the landmark video game, this version at least hews closer to the colorful, playful world of the video games. Mario (Chris Pratt, woefully miscast) and Luigi (Charlie Day, better) are trying to launch a plumbing business in Brooklyn when they’re sucked into a subterranean pipe and deposited in a video-game world. (To be fair, Brooklyn is pretty gamified in this one, too.)

Luigi is captured by Bowser (Jack Black, perfect), who’s planning on using a power-up to conquer the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario lands in the vicinity of Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who pursue the services of Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) to defend the cuter inhabitants of this — kingdom? Universe? General game area, I guess — from Bowser’s advancing army.

The film corrects the longtime wrong of the series by subbing Luigi for Peach. She’s a dominant and confident warrior a la Wonder Woman, who actually trains Mario; he’s a tentative yet loving brother who accidentally gets into a sticky situation. It removes the literal objectification of the non-Mario characters nicely and neatly.

Other than hinting at some daddy issues with Mario (whose father is voiced by the longtime voice of the character, Charles Martinet) and Donkey Kong, that’s about as far as “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” goes with thoughtfulness. The rest is the standard-issue, point-to-point plot movements that have worked for studio Illumination in series such as “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets.”

Accordingly, your kids will probably like this one; these flicks are machines calibrated to generate laughs out of the youth. If you’re hoping for an experience that will unite the generations around a lovely piece of popcorn cinema, however … “Dungeons & Dragons” is still playing.

My Rating: 5/10

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is now playing in theaters.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner