‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’: a win for franchise loyalty

Mario, voiced by Chris Pratt in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” Nintendo, Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures

Thirty years ago, Disney subsidiary Hollywood Pictures produced a big screen film adaptation of the hit Nintendo game Super Mario Bros., taking the sparse existing story content and extrapolating it into a bizarre and outrageous urban fantasy that ultimately bore little resemblance to the source material. This was not unusual at the time, when film adaptations of novels, comics and TV series usually kept only the broad outline of their parent works. Still, people hated it. Critics thought it was a weird and incoherent commercial money grab, and fans of the games found it unrecognizable. In the years since, however, as movie adaptations have become more slavishly faithful to their plots and established iconography, big, weird swings like that ’93 Mario Bros. have been re-evaluated within Millennial movie critics. Directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel brought a lot of imagination to their take on the genteel Italian plumber’s adventures through the Mushroom Kingdom, the kind of eccentric creativity that studios generally don’t allow anymore, especially when it comes to adapting established properties.

THE BR. SUPER MARIO. MOVIE ★★ (2/4 stars)
Directed by: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
Written by: Matthijs Fogel
Starring: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen
Duration: 92 minutes.

The Super Mario Bros. movie, the new animated movie from Nintendo and Illumination, is the exact opposite of the 1993 film. It’s a fully modeled, digitized translation of the Super Mario Bros. video game franchise, incorporating as much familiar imagery as possible while leaving virtually nothing behind. will be added. For the Mario fan in your household, young or old, it’s probably just what they want it to be. However, if you’ve somehow managed to get through life without any attachment to the character, there’s absolutely no reason to look at it.

Mario (Chris Pratt does a voice, but not the voice) is a friendly but bumbling plumber from Brooklyn who recently started his own business with his cowardly brother Luigi (Charlie Day). In an effort to prove their worth and drum up business, the Mario Bros. deep in the sewers of New York, they discover a hidden gateway to a colorful world populated by cute mushroom people and a human female, Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). , whose action-hero hypercompetence has earned her a place as their princess. Luigi is kidnapped by Bowser (Jack Black), a giant turtle monster who wants to rule the world, but not as much as he wants to marry Peach. Mario and Peach team up to defeat Bowser and save his brother and her kingdom respectively, taking on different challenges that just happen to represent different types of Mario games and stages. There’s a match between Mario and the boastful gorilla Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan) that’s a cross between the classic Donkey Kong to play Super Smash Bros. There is a street race on Rainbow Road with the latest gameplay gimmicks from mario kart 8. There’s a throwaway minigame joke out Mario party called “Toad Scramble.”

Rainbow Road in ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’. Nintendo, Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures

If nothing I just said makes any sense to you, then you are not the audience for this movie. That’s not to say that little kids won’t have a good time, even if they don’t recognize that Peach’s Castle is exactly like in this movie. Super Mario 64. The Super Mario Bros. movie is a fully functional animated children’s movie. It’s silly, it moves fast, it has a million little boys in it whose toys are now on the shelves. I saw this movie in a theater full of kids, albeit the kids of parents who felt motivated to get their toddlers and preschoolers to the screening of the new Mario movie as early as possible on the Thursday morning of its release. They all had a great time. The kids excitedly pointed to the screen and said “That’s Luigi!” every time Luigi appeared. The adults chuckled when one of Peach’s royal guards said, “Your princess is in another castle.” It is essentially the same experience for both age groups. The better you are familiar with Mario, the more recognition coins you will collect and the higher the movie will score for you.

That is, unless you’re like me, a curmudgeon who doesn’t like to be indulged. (See: my reviews of Star Trek: Picard, The Mandalorian, The last of us, etc.) Of course I recognize the dozens of musical motifs from the 35-year history of the Mario franchise scattered throughout the movie, and of course I love those tunes, and of course I wrote them all down in my little notebook . I appreciate that even newer characters like Mayor Paulina and the Lumas are featured alongside ubiquitous classics like Parakoopas and Shy Guys. But that’s most of it The Super Mario Bros. movie is: A huge collection of things you already like arranged in a cohesive order for digestion as a single 92 minute product. It’s the laziest version of a Mario movie, and for most viewers, young and old, that will be perfectly acceptable.

But here’s the point: it doesn’t have to be.

Hold on to your joycons, because as a film critic I’m going to say something nice about that Sonic the Hedgehog movies, and here it is: they are movies. Both the 2020 Sonic movie and its sequels have their own story that is unique among all the games, cartoons or comics that make up the Sonic franchise, introducing their own characters, settings, setpieces and ideas. They are not a total reinvention like the 1993 Super Mario Bros., but they do have a spark of originality. They’re different products of the works that inspired them, and they have a reason for being outside the context of Sonic fandom. And, cumulatively, they have grossed more than $700 million. The Super Mario Bros. movie is not so much a movie as a speed run through the history of Mario, from the Donkey Kong arcade cabinet to the Nintendo Switch, a crash course for people who generally don’t need it. They have already experienced it or are currently immersed in it. Will they enjoy the experience? Certainly. Even I had a pretty good time, and I’m building a diatribe here to protest it. Will it bring in a billion dollars? Almost certainly, and you can look forward to seeing a new one of these every two to three years, and a Legend of Zelda movie, and one Metroid movie, and one Kirby movie, until the bubble finally bursts in 2038 and we get movies based on TikTok memes instead.

What I’m saying is that we can and should expect more from a movie than a list of things we already love. I’m not asking for it Children of men; I know I just bought a ticket to the cartoon plumber movie. I’m just asking you to add something to the recipe you inherited. It can be done. Look at In the Spider-Verse. Damn look Lego movie. Hollywood has given you a blank check. You don’t have to write it out to ‘Cash’.

Observer Reviews are regular reviews of new and notable movies.

'The Super Mario Bros.  Movie' review: A win for the franchise loyalist and no one else

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