By Owen Glancy, Jack McLaughlin (O.J.), Staff Writers
Super Mario Bros. is perhaps the most recognizable video game franchise on the planet, so of course a film adaptation would be one of the most highly anticipated films of 2023.
It also had quite a bit of contention from Mario fans before its release, with the sour taste of the ’90s adaptation still in the mouths of the fans. The film’s animation studio, Illumination, is also infamous for the dubious quality of its films, causing fans to become wary.
Then the voice cast was announced and many people became even more skeptical, with choices like Chris Pratt and Seth Rogen being odd to say the least.
After all the hype and controversy, the film finally released on April 5, to huge box office success.
The first major plus of the film is the visual style. Illumination is notorious for bland looking animated films that don’t flow well, but here they’ve managed to make a genuinely pretty movie with great action sequences.
Chris Pratt, the voice of Mario, was the biggest talking point around this movie since the announcement of his role in 2021. The announcement and the trailers that followed it made viewers critical as to whether he was the right choice.
His first scene is jarring for sure, but as the film progresses he adapts to the role much better and by the end of it you almost forget it’s Chris Pratt doing the voice. Was he anyone’s first choice to play this character? Absolutely not. But he manages to make it work with this iteration of Mario.
The absolute best vocal performance of the film was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Jack Black as Bowser. He sounds appropriately menacing and funny when necessary, and even sang an original song for the film. The only thing wrong with his performance is that we don’t get nearly enough of it!
On the other hand, Fred Armisen’s performance as Cranky Kong is downright terrible. He sounds nothing like what is expected of his character and brings little emotion to his role.
Charlie Day, most famous for his role in “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” has an excellent portrayal of Mario’s younger brother Luigi. While his screen time is limited, Day captures the skittish nature of the character. His solo scenes of wandering around the dark lands early on have an eerie spooky vibe, something that is reminiscent of the “Luigi’s Mansion” game series.
Luigi had a great vocal talent behind him, but sadly we don’t get to hear much of Day’s work. Luigi is surprisingly shunned in this film, eventually becoming a plot device rather than an actual character. His limited number of scenes are mostly spent being held captive, which doesn’t really give his character much to do.
A major part of this film is the multitude of references to the Mario video games. These can range from a small visual in the background, to a major character or plot point. While not every reference is a winner, most of them are either harmless or actually pretty fun, serving as inside jokes for the hardcore Mario fans.
These references and inside jokes do hinder the plot. Any explanation over the logistics of this world are completely left out, and character motivations aside from Bowser and Mario are largely unexplained or generic.
Some references go even further than Mario, and include homages to classic Nintendo series and game systems. These moments are terrific examples of fan service, subtly weaving in fun details that don’t directly affect the story.
The plot is easily the worst part of the film. There is very little tension as Bowser himself is not as much of an active threat for most of the movie. He and Mario only interact in the final act, and his menace is diminished by his comedic nature. While the lack of any real complex plot is fine in a video game like Super Mario, it becomes a massive negative when adapted to film.
Brian Tyler’s score incorporates musical cues from the game’s longtime composer Koji Kondo. Many of the tracks update the original game’s music and give it a beautiful orchestral rendition. The scene of Mario and Toad traversing the Mushroom Kingdom for the first time has an amazing track with many of the game series’ main themes on full display.
The music expands beyond its wonderful score - one particular actor gets to let their singing skills be displayed in full with Jack Black’s song “Peaches.” This comedic, yet somehow beautiful song, has already been one of the main talking points of this movie and for good reason.
The biggest downside for the film’s music is the use of licensed music. Songs like “Take on Me” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” are played in brief moments, and it feels like these scenes could have been more impactful had they featured original music.
This is a film of peaks and valleys. The multitude of playful references, the mostly great music, the excellent animation, and the vocal talent of most of the cast all shine through and make this a great film. However, there also exists virtually no plot, a few horrible vocal performances, and a couple of bad jokes.
For Nintendo fans and gamers in general, this film is an absolute win. For anyone watching who doesn’t know as much about Mario or Nintendo, it’s a confusing and boring watch. Despite these conflicting viewpoints, it’s undeniable that this film is a great time from beginning to end.
B+: A new high score for Illumination