“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is the most potent form of nostalgia bait


“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is the newest animated film from Illumination Entertainment, and the first film heavily produced by Nintendo. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Ian Lloyd, Staff Writer

The most famous video game mascot finally got his second chance at a theatrically released feature film. From the studio that brought us “Despicable Me,” “The Lorax” and “The Secret Life of Pets” is a new interpretation of the Mario Bros that aims to be the definitive version of these characters and their world.

When two plumber brothers, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day), from Brooklyn accidentally get sucked into a mysterious pipe, they get separated. Luigi is captured by the menacing Bowser (Jack Black), and Mario must get help from Princess Peach (Anna Taylor Joy) and the rambunctious Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan) to save his brother and the world.

For those of you who are worried, Pratt’s performance does not ruin the film. It was serviceable at best and even had long stretches where it was forgettable enough to not dwell on. However, most of the vocal cast falls into this same mediocre category. The only true standout performance comes from Black’s fantastic interpretation of Bowser, King of the Koopas. He is menacing while also bringing that goofy side of Bowser to light in the best way possible.

Jack Black plays the infamous Bowser as a more silly tyrant. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The overall plot is forgettable, but what shines through is the character writing. The Super Mario franchise is often lacking characterization in favor of a gameplay focus. Peach’s backstory, Bowser’s motivation and Donkey Kong’s rivalry with Mario are all really fun and satisfying to watch. By far, the most heartfelt and impactful aspect of the film is the brotherly love between Mario and Luigi. Their dynamic is so enjoyable that it makes one wish Luigi wasn’t captured by Bowser for the majority of the running time.

The film’s score, composed by Brian Taylor, is a musical delight. It uses the iconic tracks Koji Kondo created nearly four decades ago and adapts them into a more cinematic format. However, licensed music is often annoying. The inclusion of popular tracks like A-Ha’s “Take on Me” and AC/DC’s “ Thunderstruck” comes off as lazy and uninspired, taking away from the fantastic original score for a lame attempt to get a hollow audience reaction.

As I write this, I can practically hear the frantic keyboard pounding from other writers announcing that they watched the original Super Mario Bros. and that it’s actually pretty good. Of course it’s good. However, ranking these separate films is a fool’s errand. They not only represent two extremely different eras of filmmaking, but they also reflect what Nintendo’s mission statement was then and now.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” excels with beautiful animation that depicts well-known aspects of the Mario franchise, but it lacks satisfying plot developments. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

In the early days of Nintendo’s video game development, it was an innovative company that prided itself on quality as well as the determination to push the medium forward in interesting ways. Nintendo was hands-off on “Super Mario Bros.” (1993), which led to complete creative freedom from the studio. After multiple rewrites, many directors leaving the production and a tiring production, the film was finally released to terrible reviews and backlash. The movie took a wild risk, made something more interesting than it is good, and failed at what the audience wanted in a Super Mario film.

“The Super Mario Bros Movie” is the polar opposite film. Nintendo has been as hands-on as possible with this film, So much so that Shigeru Miyamoto even landed an executive producer credit. It is a sterilized and focused film with one big goal: to remind you how much you love Mario. It takes every iconic element from the games and puts it on full display. It is practically Nintendo propaganda.

And I am not immune to propaganda.

I grew up playing Mario games, reading Nintendo Power obsessively and tracking down old dusty Nintendo cartridges that would barely work. The amount of joy I’ve experienced from the decades of playing video games starring these characters with friends and loved ones is indescribable. I now write this as someone who has spent years studying films and refining my bad taste in art, and I have to say, I enjoyed this film a whole lot.

Chris Pratt and Charlie Day play the titular Mario Bros. who have a brotherly bond that is the heart of the film. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

As my present-day cynical self snarked at the cheesy lines, bad vocal performances and boring plot beats, a younger version of myself was jumping up and down in the seat next to me, yelling whenever a new character showed up or the film referenced a deep-cut Nintendo property. This film will neither grow in appreciation over time nor hold up well in our fleeting memories. It was intended to be a quick dose of serotonin in a landscape of blockbusters grasping for your beloved nostalgia. However, as a permanent fan of Nintendo’s older library of games, I cannot deny the joy I felt while watching this film.

There is no correct answer to whether or not this film is good or bad. What matters the most is what you bring to the film and what you want to get out of it. It will certainly be bad if you expect a Nintendo ad presented by Illumination. But if you want a genuinely fun movie with some beloved characters, you won’t go wrong here.

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