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Review: 'The Super Mario Bros. Movie' lives and dies on how much you already love Mario and co.

Photo courtesy Universal Studios

By Arman Saxena     4/11/23 11:29pm

Rating: ★★★

Easter eggs and references -made to please both the casual player and the Mario devotee are what power Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s film adaptation of the massively popular video game. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has already broken records, scoring the top worldwide opening of all time for an animated film and having amassed over $350 million in worldwide sales at the time of writing. This may be due to the massive global popularity of the Mario games: It’s a franchise with a built-in audience, and the movie would’ve made money as long as it was at least okay. It’s better than okay — but just barely. 

The film thrives on blink-or-you’ll-miss-it touches to satisfy the biggest of fans. The filmmakers have a clear love and deep knowledge of the games and the Nintendo name in general, making references to classic games like “Duck Hunt” and “Balloon Fight,” niche Nintendo characters and late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. While a neat aspect of the film, if a viewer isn’t a fan of the games already, there isn’t much here for them. 

The film’s pacing is also too swift, running through storylines and emotional beats like someone speedrunning “Mario Kart.” The audience doesn’t  establish an emotional connection to any of the characters because we don’t get to spend enough time with them, with the exception of Jack Black as Bowser.  Black gives his all in this performance, imbuing Bowser with a pitiable vulnerability, showmanship and genuine anger. The scenes with Bowser were the most entertaining and were consistently some of the film’s highlights. In addition to Black, Keegan-Michael Key as Toad is exceptional as the former Comedy Central star delivers consistent energy and humor.

The rest of the cast is uniformly decent. Chris Pratt’s casting as Mario has long been critiqued, and his voice coming out of Mario’s mouth during the film never felt quite right. While that could have been my own mental block, many of the voices seemed disjointed from the characters. That’s often an issue with media based on content audiences may already intimately know. Still, the filmmakers could’ve done a better job of making the voices mesh with the characters than focusing more on hiring big name celebrities. 

From a visual perspective, the film does a great job of bringing the worlds of the games to life on the big screen at some points. But, while the Mushroom Kingdom is one highlight, there isn’t as much focus on the environments as there could’ve been and many frames come off as visually bland even with the bright colors that populate the screen.

While “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a fun, colorful film, there’s nothing memorable about it to the uninitiated. If someone is a fan of the Mario universe, they will likely love this film as the references and humor is catered to them. If you’re not even a casual fan of the games, the film might not leave much of an impact and moves too fast for the non-invested to come to care for the characters. This one is made for the fans.

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