A reboot thirty years in the making.
Starting their own plumbing business in Brooklyn, Mario (Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) are trying to make a name for themselves. The brothers are whisked away to a magical world after discovering a portal deep underground disguised as a simple access pipe, but they unfortunately arrive in different places. Seeking help to find Luigi, Mario is taken to Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) of the Mushroom Kingdom, the only other human anyone has ever seen before. Luigi arrives in a shadow land overrun with creepy crawlies, but he is quickly captured and taken before King Bowser (Jack Black). The princess predictably enlists Mario’s help to secure an army to defeat Bowser and save Luigi, but mandatory wackiness will ensue.
Anyone who’s played the games (or watched others play) know all the Nintendo trappings by now. Co-directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (with combined credits including “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” and “Teen Titans Go!”) and written by Rise of Gru and The Lego Movie 2 scribe Matthew Fogel, the trailers look exactly the way viewers expect modern CG animation would depict 8-bit video game characters; no makeover uproar from the internet this time like what happened with Sonic. It’s also the first big animated or even family friendly film of 2023, so appealing to a wider audience would be effective counter-programming to the R-rated John Wick 4 and Scream VI… nor is it a sequel. With no real competition for its demographic, how super will Mario really need to be to succeed?
Did anyone actually demand a Super Mario Bros. movie after the live-action fiasco starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo three decades ago? The new film is less of a 2D game translation and more like an 80-minute cut scene, but there’s certainly a market considering how many Twitch channels are dedicated to watching others play. With a soundtrack stacked with classic game sounds — and Jack Black getting his usual musical digs in — it’s an odd choice so many other songs were lifted from the 1970s and 1980s, more likely to appeal to Gen-X grandparents than anyone else. Illumination Entertainment delivers their usual fare: a final cut playing it safe, offending no one and casting a wide nostalgic net by coloring strictly inside the lines. It’s a sugary doughnut with Maple glaze, enjoyable for what it is and easily forgotten until that next craving.
Nothing against Chris Pratt, but without that trademark cartoonish accent, Mario doesn’t sound very animated. Pratt’s prior credit as Emmet Brickowski in the Lego movies works because he’s an everyman that was never meant to stand out as a hero, but it feels too subdued for Mario. This is in contrast to Day’s vocally worrisome Luigi and Black’s explosive Bowser; even Taylor-Joy surprisingly emotes as Princess Peach. Seth Rogan and Fred Armisen lend expected vocals, but Kevin Michael Richardson excels as the wand-wielder Kamek while Juliet Jelenic steals the show voicing a nihilistic Lumalee. As good as any of the Despicable Me films while not up to the surprisingly good Sing movies, it’s a fun film for kids of all ages.
Viewers familiar with all things Mario won’t need any explanation for how this Marioland or any Super Mario Galaxy works because it pretty much just does, so count on sequels aplenty if everything works out. For folks more interested in a body count and barrels of blood, fear not: Renfield, The Pope’s Exorcist, and Evil Dead Rise are all on April’s horizon. Enjoy the intermission!
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is rated PG for action, mild violence, and giving clients the white-glove treatment.
Three skull recommendation out of four.
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