Review: “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is an IP Exercise Aimed Squarely at Kids

It’s difficult to manage expectations when there is so much money at stake. With Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the brightly lit and reference-heavy film is a perfect fit for kids, but falls short in delivering anything satisfying for the adults.

The animated film follows plumber brothers Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) trying to work in Brooklyn. When a local water main break leads them to an underground pipe system, the pair are sucked through a warp pipe, landing Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom and Luigi in the Dark Lands.

Mario runs into Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) who leads him to Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). Peach is hoping to save the Mushroom Kingdom from the evil Bowser (Jack Black), who is holding Luigi hostage and wishes to marry Peach. Mario joins forces with Peach to defeat Bowser and save his brother.

Do kids care about the reductive story structure that sidelines Luigi for the bulk of the runtime? Probably not. The film does exactly what it means to do with all the Easter eggs and game references to satisfy the target audience. At the same time, these references and odes to the game are either far too shrugged off, or inexplicably included to the plot. Is there a good reason for the characters to get in go-karts? Not at all. But you better believe there is a scene where they build them just like you do in the game.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a rush of childhood excitement when I say a group of karts on Rainbow Road. This is a blast of everything that makes the Mario games great, but without any imagination. It’s like a Wikipedia page of Mario references presented in a slightly discernable order. It’s difficult to see this film as anything other than an attempt to make a significant amount of money at the box office.

Much has been discussed about the choice of Pratt in the title role, but he is decidedly fine. Despite being a skilled voice actor in other projects, his voice is fairly anonymous in this film. Day has a slightly better time as Luigi, but this is about the characters, not the actors. Films continue to not learn lessons from the successes and failures of previous films in casting the correct actors instead of the most famous actors. This film definitely went with the latter.

Black does the best of actually transforming his voice to the character, while Taylor-Joy and Seth Rogen (as Donkey Kong) just do their natural speaking voices. Key and Fred Armisen (as the wizard Kamek) also do a fine job of playing to the characters they are tasked with.

It feels elitist to say The Super Mario Bros. Movie is wasted potential. There were so many interesting roads the film could have taken, but it decided to take the most basic route to a cash grab instead of making an interesting story.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is now playing in theaters
Score: 2.5/5.0

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