The Super Mario Bros. Movie film poster and movie review

Movie Reviews

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Reviewed by:
Luke Bonanno on April 4, 2023

Theatrical Release:
April 5, 2023

Super Mario Bros. is certain to extend Illumination's streak of lucrative returns on minimal pleasures. It's just too bad that there is virtually nothing in this movie to justify those financial delights.

Running Time92 min

RatingPG

Running Time 92 min

RatingPG

Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic

Matthew Fogel

Chris Pratt (Mario), Anya Taylor-Joy (Princess Peach), Charlie Day (Luigi), Jack Black (Bowser), Keegan-Michael Key (Toad), Seth Rogen (Donkey Kong), Fred Armisen (Cranky Kong), Kevin Michael Richardson (Kamek), Sebastian Maniscalco (Spike), Charles Martinet (Giuseppe), Khary Payton (Penguin King), Eric Bauza (General Toad), Jessica DiCicco (Yellow Toad), Jeannie Elias (Plumbing Commercial Lady), Juliet Jelenic (Lumalee)


The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

by Luke Bonanno

With the amount of power that nostalgia holds in Hollywood, it’s downright shocking that thirty years have passed since a Super Mario Bros. movie went to theaters. Then again, that 1993 live-action film starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper was a lightning rod for ridicule. Even with the backing of Disney and a Memorial Day Weekend opening, it severely underperformed in theaters, was lambasted by critics, and became a quick case study for why video games do not lend themselves to movies. That’s a lesson learned again and again and again, with movies like Street Fighter, Hitman, and Max Payne consistently drawing the lowest of critical approval ratings and the steepest of box office drop-offs.

And yet, video games remain a cornerstone of modern media consumption. What was initially assumed to be a diversion that 1980s children would grow out of has evolved into an industry that generates nearly $200 billion a year. That’s billion with a b, meaning the gaming industry yields about five times as much revenue as the entire global film industry. That prosperity is far too big to ignore, so the entertainment world naturally keeps coming up with ways to tap into it. That’s why the Resident Evil movie franchise never seems to die, why HBO thought The Last of Us could make for must-see television, and why two actors at the peak of their creative power believed in last year’s Uncharted.

Artistic success rarely comes from directly turning a video game line into a movie or series. But commercial success is a lot more attainable. As proof of that, look at recent box office numbers and you’ll find a Sonic the Hedgehog movie in the top ten grossing releases in two of the past three years. While Sonic may by Sega’s biggest icon, no one would argue that the blinding blue daredevil or the Japanese gaming company that made him truly rival Mario and Nintendo in brand awareness. In the more than forty years since they were introduced at the advent of the 8-bit era, the New York plumbers have remained relevant as not just corporate mascots but relatable heroes at the center of every generation’s gaming experience. Ranking above Tetris, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Pokémon, Mario is by far gaming’s biggest franchise ever, with a staggering 826.38 million sales to date.

I’ll leave it to someone else to explain the enduring appeal of these little mustachioed Italian-Americans and their universe of mushrooms, turtles, stars, apes and princesses. I was a Genesis kid and I am responsible for exactly zero of those 826.38 million units. That’s not to say I would turn down the opportunity to embarrass myself with my wild driving in a game of Mario Kart, but you’d have to be the one providing the console and game.

Mario and luigi are both brothers and mustachioed buddies in "the super mario bros. Movie. "

On the other hand, I am fully qualified to judge 2023’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie on its cinematic merits or, more accurately, its lack thereof. Nintendo’s resistance to explore feature film treatment for three decades following 1993’s embarrassment explains not just the timing of this new effort, but the medium. Of course, this attempt forgoes garish costumes and production design in favor of computer animation. Unfortunately, Nintendo has teamed with the US animation studio with the least impressive body of work.

Illumination, the Santa Monica outfit founded by Chris Meledandri in 2007, has given us twelve feature films over the years, all but three of them belonging to the Sing, Secret Life of Pets, and Despicable Me/Minions franchises. Virtually all of their releases have generated huge profits, with grosses up to ten figures (both Minions and Despicable Me belong to the Billion Dollars Worldwide club) and budgets never higher than eight figures. Illumination is a golden goose to Universal Pictures, which is part of NBCUniversal, which is part of Comcast. If you’re not a shareholder, it is so much harder to see the appeal.

Blue Sky Studios, the now-shuttered Fox animation house that Meledandri left to launch Illumination, reached modest heights with the Ice Age movies and Robots. Illumination’s far cartoonier and more transparently commercial work has consistently fallen short of even that mediocre standard. Of the studio’s output, only The Lorax, released back in 2012, has reached a 7 for me on a 1-10 scale. If that benign Dr. Seuss adaptation represents the pinnacle of creative achievements, I struggle to understand how the company can not only survive but thrive in a marketplace where the competition has included such masterpieces as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Lego Movie, Toy Story 3, and Zootopia.

But maybe that is the true genius of Illumination, turning inane and obnoxious comedies with a minimum of artistry into box office behemoths. Chalk it up to brilliant marketing or the sheer volume of young children entertained by bright, shiny, colorful gags and parents not savvy enough to realize they deserve better.

Mario and princess peach take a walk among the mushrooms in "the super mario bros. Movie. "

Super Mario Bros. is certain to extend the studio’s streak of lucrative returns on minimal pleasures. This was a movie destined to grab people’s attention from the moment it was announced in early 2018. Mario, Luigi, and company have been around for forty years, which accounts for the childhoods of around 79% of the US population today. This is the kind of four-quadrant, multi-generational major event that makes Comcast shareholders salivate.

It’s just too bad that there is virtually nothing in this new Mario movie to justify those financial delights. With a screenplay credited entirely to Matthew Fogel (Minions: The Rise of Gru, The Lego Movie 2, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son), Mario is at its most inspired when it visualizes aspects of the gameplay: Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) leaping from one ledge or suspended block to another and traveling through a dizzying series of tubes. These brief scenes offer all the joy of watching someone else play a video game and that’s as good as things get here.

Mario and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) sink all their life savings into a lo-fi commercial advertising their affordable plumbing service with heavy Italian accents. Their own family doubts their strategy and acquaintances scoff at their lack of professional acumen. But as delving into those issues wouldn’t make for the most mainstream of movies, the emotional baggage is set aside for far more generic adventure. Mario and Luigi are separated, the former crossing paths with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy, seizing a payday) and the latter becoming a hostage to Bowser (Jack Black), who is hellbent on marrying Peach.

Even if your knowledge of the Mario universe is as limited as mine, you could more or less dream up the same scenarios that Fogel gives us. Perhaps the most watchable one is a battle between Mario and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen, doing an impression of himself) which employs the transformative mushrooms from the games. There’s also the obligatory rainbow race in the sky inspired by Mario Kart.

Illumination’s output is typically uglier than any of the other major American animation studios, but Mario Bros. is actually kind of pleasing visually. There are a few eyesores, like the overcrowded Mushroom City, and the unimaginative cinematography consistently invites you to wonder how Pixar would have squeezed more cinematic intrigue out of these very same settings. But the colorful, faithful designs and passable effects probably thrust this to the top of Illumination’s canon aesthetically.

Voiced by seth rogen, donkey kong, whose franchise first introduced mario in 1981, sports a tie with his initials on it.

Alas, that is the extent of the admiration I could muster for this lousy, pandering product. Promising on paper, the voice cast gets no opportunities to cut loose. It’s actually painful that someone as funny as Charlie Day is doing limp Luigi readings here and shilling Mountain Dew elsewhere. Has it been that long since he shined in Horrible Bosses and breathed life vocally into Monsters University and The Lego Movie?

I was also a big fan of directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s previous collaboration, 2018’s underappreciated Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. The wit and irreverence they brought to that creative musical comedy seems to have been kneecapped by the Illumination machine. The stench of commerce conquering art pervades this production.

Complaints like mine — and hopefully, yours, my conscientious readers — will fall upon deaf ears when this weekend’s box office numbers are reported and Universal announces the inevitable sequel. Will Wario and Waluigi appear? The speculative SEO-driven articles on trashy, soulless “nerd” websites by un/der-paid freelance staff practically write themselves.

In closing, allow me to remind you that movies do not have to be bad to make lots of money. That may be an integral part of the Illumination model — spend little, think less, and reap the benefit$ — but there are far more blockbusters out there that have succeeded on good ideas, thrilling escapism, cinematic splendor, and creative subversion than simply transcribing popular works to a new medium and asking viewers “remember this thing you once liked?”

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