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Review: The Super Mario Bros. Movie

As massive as Super Mario Bros. is, there’s only been one film, the now cult classic from 1993, live-action movie before the release of this past weekend’s animated The Super Mario Bros. Movie.  Illumination and Nintendo’s team-up is an absolute blast with gorgeous animation, tons of inside jokes and easter eggs, and fun set pieces.

Chris Pratt and Charlie Day voice Mario and Luigi, who have left a job working construction in Brooklyn to open their own plumbing business.  After a disastrous first gig, the brothers see news that a massive flood from the sewer system is threatening Brooklyn and they spring into action to try and help.  Finding a massive section of the sewers that haven’t been used in years, the brothers are sucked into a green pipe and transported to the Mushroom Kingdom, getting separated in the process.  Luigi is captured by the forces of Bowser (Jack Black), who is conquering the various lands of the kingdom on his quest for world domination while Mario gets help from Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is on a mission to recruit the powerful Kong army in their fight against Bowser.  The story isn’t as complicated or as clever as something like The Lego Movie, but it does its job briskly and sets up the set pieces and gags in a satisfying manner.  It also doesn’t interfere with the movie’s gorgeous animation, which perfectly captures the world of Mario with tons of side characters and enemies from the games, like Koopas, Goombas, Dry Bones, and Magikoopa aka Kamek (Kevin Michael Richardson) and almost too many easter eggs and references to catch, some even related to other Nintendo properties outside of Mario.

The movie also pays homage to all eras of Mario, with plot elements, power-ups, and characters from games going all the way back to Super Mario Bros. 3 all the way up the 3D World and Odyssey.  There’s also an homage to the beloved Super Mario Bros. Super Show and I think even some elements from the excellent Super Mario World manga that ran in Nintendo Power back in the day.  No matter what era or game is your favorite in the Mario series, there’s something in The Super Mario Bros. Movie that will put a smile on your face.  The music is also mostly great, with composer Brian Tyler working classic Mario music into his score but the one nitpick I have is the choice of licensed needle drops.  They are completely unnecessary and also completely obvious, like “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” by The Beastie Boys playing as the brothers race around Brooklyn.  It’s also a bit jarring to hear songs like that in the Mario universe and hopefully, maybe they will ease up on that in the sequel.

The voice cast is fantastic across the board, yes, even Chris Pratt.  His Mario is not the iconic Charles Martinet voice but Pratt makes him a lovable underdog who goes through your typical hero’s journey and doesn’t give up, no matter the odds.  Charlie Day’s nervous energy perfectly matches Luigi but he’s sidelined for pretty much the entire movie, which seems a bit odd for the first big movie in a new Mario movie franchise but hopefully, he’ll be a more active participant in the sequel.  Anya Taylor-Joy does a great job as Peach and makes her an extremely active and badass participant, setting out herself to take on Bowser and doing every Mario does, and most of the time better since she’s the more experienced of the two.  Jack Black steals the show as Bowser, making him both an actual legitimate threat but also a goofball who will sing romantic piano ballads.  Keegan-Michael Key is great as Toad, providing tons of laughs with Toad’s instant friendship with Mario and his lack of fear about anything going on.  Seth Rogen isn’t really doing anything different with his voice for Donkey Kong but he’s a fun addition as well, making DK a dumb but powerful rival to Mario before the pair learn to become friends.

The setpieces in the movie are tons of fun and really nail the fun of Super Mario, utilizing power-ups in interesting and cool ways, like Peach getting an Ice Flower to take on Bowser’s forces or Mario kicking butt in the Cat Suit.  There’s a Mario Kart set piece that is also excellent and equally nails the feel of those games along with some Mad Max thrown in and some set pieces go full and a fun fight with Donkey Kong that feels like it might be an homage to Super Smash as well as Donkey Kong and other Mario games.  As mentioned, the animation is truly gorgeous and absurdly lush and colorful, rendering the Mushroom Kingdom in a way that lives up to the legacy of the games and should also be a visual treat for moviegoers that don’t really play the games.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a ton of fun with gorgeous visuals and an entertaining and totally game-voice cast.  The set pieces are equal parts hilarious and exciting and all the visual references and easter eggs make it truly feel like a love letter to the iconic game series.  I can’t wait to see what Nintendo and Illumination cook up for a sequel and maybe other Nintendo properties in the future (Please give us a Star-Fox movie).

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