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‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’: It’s-a-the Superstar Amongst Other Video Game Films!

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Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.”

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” released in theaters nationwide as fans of all ages packed into the cinemas to witness the animated adventure of a beloved video game franchise on April 5. The film focuses on Mario (Christ Pratt) rescuing his brother, Luigi (Charlie Day), from the clutches of the evil Bowser (Jack Black) after they are transported from the rough streets of Brooklyn to the eccentric Mushroom Kingdom. Along the way, Mario meets new friends and allies who help him in the ultimate battle against the Koopa King. 

This is the latest box-office feature of the mustachioed hero since the critical and commercial failure of the live-action “Super Mario Bros.” released in 1993. Since then, Nintendo became hesitant to relinquish the rights of any of their video game titles — especially of their most famous character — for decades. 

Nintendo had been contemplating the idea of making another movie for years but were planning on making it themselves, according to Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, rather than entrusting their characters to another Hollywood producer. However, after a discussion in 2016 with Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri, whose studio produced the “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets” franchises, Miyamoto became more confident in the idea. 

When “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” (2019) received a relatively positive response from both critics and fans, it proved to be a turning point for Nintendo. The film demonstrated the potential of a successful revival for the plumber’s film career, if planned accordingly. 

“When I talked with Chris, he said he had read a lot of interviews with me and felt we had a similar approach to creation,” Miyamoto said during an investor’s call. Despite their like-minded mentality, Miyamoto made sure he was included in the production process this time. “I was certain that [Nintendo] needed to be involved, otherwise it could not be done.”  

During a Nintendo Direct presentation in September 2021, Miyamoto eagerly announced the English voice cast with actors such as Pratt, Black and Day headlining the big screen. Once the announcement was made, fans on the internet could not help but mercilessly lampoon the selection of actors, particularly when it came to Chris Pratt as the protagonist. 

Nevertheless, Illumination, Nintendo and the entire cast of voice actors managed to avoid another catastrophic blunder like their predecessor and offered something distinctly different from other video games movies. 

For example, the film was made entirely in animation. In adaptations such as “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020), there has been an increasingly prominent decision of merging CGI characters with real performers. While its presentation is not necessarily bad, it does beg the question: why do film companies feel the need to do this? It can be a waste of time to focus on non-canon human characters, when fans really just want more screen time of their favorite video game heroes. 

Knowing this, Illumination opted for the wiser decision of keeping “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” strictly a cartoon. Additionally, they kept the unique design details of each character, such as Mario and Luigi’s disproportionate noses and Toad’s lack of pupils intact. The revamped versions are pleasing to the eyes instead of making you want to gouge them out in utter horror. Oftentimes, a character that is made with too much CGI compromises the integrity of their original style so that they blend better in a human’s reality. Even so, suspension of disbelief only goes so far before it becomes impossible to disregard how strange the redesign looks. Mario and his pals’ perfect blend of subdued realism with fantastical elements beautifully resists the recent trend of live-action cinema. 

The voice acting was not as unbearable as people had initially wailed about. If anything, it was far better than expected. Pratt’s portrayal of Mario did not have a stereotypical Italian accent; there’s a high probability that would’ve been excruciating to hear for more than a couple minutes. Rather, Pratt leaned into voicing Mario with a modest New York accent. If you weren’t listening for it, you probably wouldn’t have noticed much of a difference as he (thankfully) did not exaggerate it grotesquely. That being said, he still did a good job when reciting iconic lines like “Wahoo!” or “It’s-a-me!”

Thanks to Black’s phenomenal performance, Bowser was one of the most dynamic characters in the film overall. There are moments when he is downright terrifying, but other times, he’s an awkward giant embroiled in unforeseen shenanigans. His sentimental side is displayed when he atrociously, but also earnestly sings a hilarious song to Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) declaring his unwavering devotion to her. Rather than being typecast as “Mario’s nemesis,” Black demonstrated Bowser’s multifaceted personality, which was refreshing to witness.

In the game, Princess Peach is the classic damsel in distress with her soft-spoken voice squeaking out “Mario!” every five seconds. In the movie, she still has a gentleness to her, but a weak demeanor is nowhere to be found. It was great to see Peach be kind and dignified, but also partake in the fight for justice. Even when she did get inevitably kidnapped, she fought forr her herself and came up with her own solution. Taylor-Joy’s voicing of Peach had a simultaneous assertive, but benevolent charm to it. It’s something you wouldn’t think could go together, yet surprisingly works well.

My only gripe with this film is how fast it goes by, which consequently hinders the development of the relationship between characters. The interactions between them frequently felt rushed and disorganized. When Mario meets Peach for the first time, she decides to help him on his quest instantly. They converse for about a minute, and she doesn’t hesitate embarking with a complete stranger. Granted, that is the nature of who they are. They help people out no matter what, and there’s a mutual attraction which helps with the persuasion. Regardless, this might leave some people questioning what just happened, but then forced to move onto the next scene. The combination of fast pacing with the quest of Easter Eggs for fans to hunt constantly will leave your brain overstimulated by the end. 

All in all, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” did exactly what it was supposed to do: entertain fans and children. It’s not a cinematic masterpiece by any means, but it is enjoyable to watch. In comparison to other video game movies, it definitely beats them by a landslide. While there hasn’t been a formal announcement of a sequel just yet, there was an end credits scene that hinted at the inclusion of Yoshi in future films. For now, fans have the pleasure of fantasizing who they would cast to voice other characters in the “Super Mario” universe, and it’s already begun

Julissa Ramirez is an Arts & Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at julisscr@uci.edu