‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ is super-nostalgic but not super-fun

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (2023) – Mario and Luigi!

These siblings are worldwide household names. 

Literally, because millions of kids – and adults – played Super Mario Bros. on Nintendo video game consoles, beginning in the 1980s.

Mario’s first appearance was 1981’s Donkey Kong, an arcade staple during the Ronald Reagan years, but Nintendo Co., Ltd. also created several home gaming offshoots featuring the famous animated brothers.

The home game presented the mustached fellas running through a never-ending wonderland of blue skies, walking mushrooms, and cubes of bricks suspended in the air. 

Excelling in this game took months of repetition to determine the timing of specific jumps, mapping out starts and sudden stops, and gathering coins and superhuman abilities.  No question, teens and 20-somethings gladly sat in front of television sets for habitual 6-hour sessions to help guide these heroes on their bizarre journey.  We (and yes, include me in this group) were addicted, and Mario and Luigi became cultural icons like Madonna and Michael Jordan. 

And hey, the game was fun!

Forty-two years after Donkey Kong’s video-arcade arrival, Universal Pictures, Illumination, and Nintendo released an animated adventure, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie”, a film that pits our heroes on a trek that begins in brick-and-mortar Brooklyn and delves into a fantasy world of mushrooms, castles, a princess, a dragon, and…bricks. 

Mario (Chris Pratt) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy)

Directors Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic, Pierre Leduc, and Fabien Polack and writer Matthew Fogel offer a light tale where struggling plumbers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) stumble into some sort of bizarre vortex via a drainage pipe, are split up, and must save Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) from a delusional dragon named Bowser (Jack Black). 

Bowser believes that he’s engaged to Princess Peach, and in this universe, dragon-human marriages are a thing.  Okay, sure.

We meet bluebirds who throw snowballs, a Mushroom Kingdom filled with petite people that sport mushrooms for skulls, a bleak netherworld called The Darklands, and a gorilla village home to a famous arcade-game star. 

Horvath and company offer plenty of sights and sounds from the Super Mario collections, and avid gamers will discover vastly more references and Easter eggs than this critic.  Still, Super Mario novices will recognize the filmmakers’ efforts to send audiences back to yesteryear and trigger warm memories of this dynamic duo’s on-screen agility.  

Despite the nostalgia, colorful settings, and terrific cast (including Pratt, Day, Taylor-Joy, Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen, and Seth Rogen), “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” just isn’t super-fun. 

The paper-thin, predictable script will entertain second graders, but it’s a paint-by-numbers tale that could fit into any ordinary Saturday morning cartoon show.  There’s nothing groundbreaking, innovative, or profound here, as this straight-up story runs through the motions but with recognizable stars.  Then again, do small children know these characters?  Perhaps, or the project possibly serves as a marketing opportunity for a Mario Renaissance.

Even though – back in the day – adults enjoyed non-stop Mario stints, the film runs a scant 83 minutes, which reflects the flimsy plot.  Still, the short runtime is a blessing.  To help keep parents’ attention, Universal Pictures found the budget for 80s and 90s hits from Beastie Boys, A-ha, AC/DC, and also a theme song from one of Quentin Tarantino’s biggest films.  Mr. Black finds some minutes to sing as well.

Will “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” speak to moviegoers and compel them to go back and play these classic diversions?  Maybe.  The on-screen sounds of “beeps” and “boops” could spark joys from decades past and might start a flood of online searches for Mario cartridges, or mom and dad may ask their kids if they could join them for a Mushroom Kingdom match.  That’s certainly possible, even though they probably won’t “jump” at the chance to watch this film a second time.

⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic, Pierre Leduc, and Fabien Polack

Written by:  Matthew Fogel

Starring:  Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Keegan-Michael Key, Jack Black, Fred Armisen, and Seth Rogen

Runtime:  83 minutes

Rated: PG

Image credits: Universal Pictures, Illumination, and Nintendo

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