I will be frank with you: “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a good movie. It capitalized on the Nintendo nostalgia that I grew up with for years and my love for Mario. The voice acting is superb, the references are numerous and the movie is captivating. It has every right to be an international blockbuster, and there is a 90% chance that I will see it again in IMAX. There is absolutely no way for me to overlook the childlike biases I had going into this movie last night, so the review ends here — 10/10 would watch Bowser go full Elton John on the keyboard again.
But that’s an inherent disservice to everyone who isn’t a Nintendo historian like me. If you casually enjoyed Mario growing up, or if you’ve never given a damn about him before, this movie still deserves your time because it shows us what a proper video game movie is supposed to be. With executive production by Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri and the “Father of Modern Video Games” Shigeru Miyamoto, the movie feels intentional with its purpose. The scoring, the movements and the animations are all done with the same visual quality we’ve come to expect from the studio that brought us “Despicable Me.”
With the production of the film kicking off in 2018, this movie had been in the works for five years with Miyamoto and Meledandri co-producing. With any movie of this scale, expertise was definitely required, so “Teen Titans Go!” creators Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic were brought on for directing, and Matthew Fogel was the main screenwriter. But none of these things would matter to anyone outside of those who have a deep passion for cartoons and Hollywood. Who really mattered were the voice-acting cast and whether or not they could remain faithful to the source material.
In a September 2021 Nintendo Direct, Miyamoto announced that Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Kevin Michael Richardson and Fred Armisen would all be starring. The internet immediately burst into flames at the idea of Pratt becoming the voice of Mario with Day playing Luigi. Obviously, no one was disappointed by Black playing Bowser, but there were many lingering questions. Internet dialogue went back and forth about the qualifications of everyone but Black, Rogen and Key to play such important roles. Pratt, in particular, got a lot of flak for being chosen over Mario voice actor Charles Martinet, but none of those things matter if the voices hold up. So do they?
Let me be clear, the casting in the movie was done correctly. Black as Bowser is a form of antidepressant, and no one can change my mind. As to how Illumination managed to make the character model of Bowser move and behave like Black, I have no idea, but the qualities that made him beloved across the world make an appearance. Rogen as Donkey Kong makes sense in a way you have to see to believe. The snarky, somewhat airheaded personality of DK in the film feels like it was made specifically for Rogen but never out of place. And paired with the weird and distinct voice of Armisen, the entire Kong portion of the movie felt like it was done with clear intention. One of the Kongs even looked and screamed like Jerry Seinfeld, which got me to double over laughing.
Taylor-Joy wouldn’t have been my first choice for Peach, but I’m glad they went with her. The rigging in Peach’s face could be weird at times, but they succeeded in writing her in a way that felt satisfying. The directors made her competent, caring and self-reliant in a way that she is rarely depicted outside of the spin-off games. Here she feels more like a playable character than a damsel in distress, which the directors based on Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart. Having Key, who is known for his vocal range, play Toad was brilliant as he was able to replicate the shrill screech of the character with shocking accuracy.
But this is “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” not the “Mario Extended Universe” movie, which means we have to address the giant Koopa in the room: Pratt and Day. Luigi is a scared, often high-strung character who plays second fiddle to Mario in almost every depiction where their characters are given even partial dialogue. He is not always autonomous, but he is reliable and acts as a partner in crime to Mario. However, the movie changes that by making him the damsel, requiring him to be saved instead of doing the saving. And while Day’s energy of the character is correct, he just sounds like himself. The closest he gets to sounding like Luigi is calling out to Mario during a “Luigi’s Mansion” reference during the film. I found this detracted from his character quite a lot as he was not able to land the voice.
Pratt, on the other hand, does not sound like himself. Quite frankly, he sounds so little like himself that if you told me he was voiced by a completely different person, I would not notice. While he does not sound like Martinet, I think it was better to make his regular speaking voice normal. Listening to Mario chatter away for 90 minutes in his traditional voice would have been maddening. And so, despite the initial thoughts of the internet, Pratt ended up doing a good job in his portrayal of Mario.
Without the direct involvement of Nintendo and Miyamoto, this movie would have been a train wreck, undoubtedly. But with the attention to detail given by the writers, animators, directors and producers, we, instead, found a love letter to one of the world’s biggest franchises. There are far too many references to the ’80s, Nintendo, and modern pop culture to list them all; Luigi’s ringtone is the GameCube startup, DK’s theme is from Donkey Kong 64, and there are five minutes of Captain Toad references crammed in. It was sensory overload as I tried to catch every single thing while paying attention to the plot. I do not feel compelled to look up the references online because they are burned into my brain from my childhood, and to me, that is one of the most beautiful things a person can experience.
Stuck-up reviewers will have their flaws with this movie. They will tell you the pacing is bad or that the plot is disjointed and that character’s motivations are not clearly established in Act 1. And there are some valid points that need to be addressed in the plot. But as I write my last media review here at The Daily Campus, I implore you to judge something on how it makes you feel first and foremost before you rate it by the book. I have always been averse to the rating system because it forces me as a writer to lock in my answer based on an invisible rubric. And because of this, I am not giving a numerical rating.
Rating: Go see this movie and have a good time