Film adaptations of video games, theoretically, should be successful as they can draw in fans of both movies and games. However, films based on video game series have been notorious for bad scripts, acting and overall poor quality — and only four video game films have achieved a “fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes between 2019 to 2022. One of the latest video game adaptations, however, walked away with over $375 million in sales in only its first five days.
With record-breaking box office success, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” hits the big screen with the marriage of Nintendo’s most recognizable plumber and Illumination, the studio responsible for animating “Despicable Me.” Theatrically released on Apr. 5, 2023, the film was met with audiences raving about the zany voice acting, impressive animation and incredible soundtrack. Fans of the Mario series were also met with a multitude of references and easter eggs in every corner of the animated movie, whether it was through the background, music, or sound design.
The voice-acting ensemble behind the Mario movie was nothing short of an all-star team. Starring Christ Pratt as Mario, the impressive cast comprises Anya Taylor-Joy as a confident Princess Peach, Charlie Day as the cowardly and sincere Luigi and Seth Rogen’s portrayal of the cocky Donkey Kong. However, it was none other than Bowser, voiced by Jack Black, who stole the entire show by being able to emit the threatening aura the Mario villain should have, but also smashing every comedic bit given to him. This even included a solo song nailed by Black that highlighted the ridiculous romance between Bowser and Peach.
Under Illumination, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” receives top-tier American animation treatment. Whether Mario was running through the Mushroom Kingdom, entering combat with Donkey Kong or racing through Rainbow Road in his kart, every action sequence felt polished and smooth. The implementation of different mushrooms and power-ups had audiences on their toes, guessing what Mario would do next and different avenues for him to conquer obstacles. The high, octane nature of the narrative gave the Mario movie the freedom to cram in these vibrant and exciting moments in the 90-minute film.
What stood out the most in the cinematic experience of the heroic plumber was its masterful score. Composed by Brian Tyler, the film’s score sends Mario fans back to the 80s with powerful, orchestral renditions of the classic 8-bit music featured in the games. Tyler’s modern take on longtime Mario composer Koji Kondo’s work brings out an epic and emotional soundtrack from multiple Mario games. However, while its original soundtrack was entirely impressive, the additional music in song choices like “Take On Me” from A-ha and “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler felt out of place when trying to complement the mushroom-eating hero. Overall, the film’s soundtrack would have benefitted from solely using original songs, rather than relying on additional music.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” would be an incredible watch when it comes to its excellent soundtrack, animation and voice-acting, however, its Achilles’ heel is exposed when critiquing its incredibly thin narrative. What the film lacked in its storytelling was having any large themes or lessons imbued in the adventure and it results in a veiled shallow plotline. The story also relies on too many plot conveniences and holes, such as Mario stumbling onto the entrance to Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser somehow discovering the hero’s plan to use a not-so-secret pathway and especially Bowser’s decision to not ever use the Gold Star, which would aid his conquest immensely.
While “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” excels in every other aspect, having a weak story significantly impedes the viewing experience. It is unfortunate to have that weakness when other family-friendly films were able to accomplish great narratives with amazing animations and soundtracks, such as “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” or the “Kung Fu Panda” trilogy. Cinema has proven that movies meant for kids can still be enjoyed by adults in a meaningful way.
Does this mean that “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is not worth your time? No, not necessarily. Families have been starving for a 2023 kid-friendly movie and the reviews reflect that sentiment. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes features a 96%, whereas critics dish out a 58%. The dissonance between the audience and critics presents the difference in the value of a narrative and this makes both scores valid. If you are in just for some family fun, refer to the audience. The film is still a blast to watch, however, its weak narrative will leave more critical movie-goers unsatisfied.
Verdict: Unfortunately, with no solid narrative theme or character development, the Mario movie subsequently suffers as a hollow shell of a movie. While it can be a great time for families and casual watchers, hardcore movie-goers may only enjoy the many Nintendo references the movie has to offer.