Genre: CG Animation
Director: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
Cast: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Kevin Michael Richardson, Sebastian Maniscalc
Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 6 April 2023
Synopsis: From Nintendo and Illumination comes a new animated film based on the world of Super Mario Bros. Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (collaborators on Teen Titans Go!, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies) from a screenplay by Matthew Fogel (The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, Minions: The Rise of Gru), the film stars Chris Pratt as Mario, Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, Charlie Day as Luigi, Jack Black as Bowser, Keegan-Michael Key as Toad, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong, Kevin Michael Richardson as Kamek and Sebastian Maniscalco as Spike. The film is produced by Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri and by Shigeru Miyamoto for Nintendo.
Hard to believe that it has been close to four decades since the Super Mario games first made their debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1985, but that is also a reflection of the generations of teenagers and young adults who have grown up with the likes of Mario, Luigi, Toads, Peach, Bowser, Donkey Kong etc. Indeed, there is good reason why Universal Studios Japan had needed to introduce time-based entry into its latest ‘Super Nintendo World’ attraction, and it is for that same reason why it is about time that someone has decided to make a movie out of it.
That someone happens to be Illumination, which while has never quite attained the same critical credibility as say Pixar, has undeniably built a brand name over the years for perfectly agreeable family-friendly animation through their ‘Minions’ and ‘Sing’ franchises. It is the same sensibility which informs their latest venture, a beautifully, colourfully animated adventure that won’t please critics by any measure but will have the rest of us thoroughly satisfied with its constant stream of broad gags, inventive action and fan service.
From the get-go, the film establishes Bowser (Jack Black) as its antagonist, a fire-breathing beastie who commands a vast army of Koopas and is seen in the prologue conquering an ice kingdom of blue penguins to steal their Super Star. Bowser’s next target is Mushroom Kingdom, ruled by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) whom he is infatuated with; in fact, Bowser’s main intention of mounting an invasion of Mushroom Kingdom is to have leverage even as he asks for her hand in marriage. As fate would have it, Peach receives some unexpected help from Mario (Chris Pratt), who lands in the kingdom after getting sucked into a cavernous sewer system with his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) while attempting to repair a water-main break.
Unlike Mario, Luigi ends up in Bowser’s Dark Lands, where Mario seeks Peach’s help to journey to in order to rescue Luigi. Before Peach agrees for Mario to join her, Mario will have to prove himself through an obstacle course of pipes and girders, man-eating flowers and wrecking balls, learning about the importance of power-ups in the process. Of note, this training montage deserves special mention for how it pays tribute to the classic ‘Super Mario’ game, with some of Koji Kendo’s gloriously recognisable musical motifs thrown in for good measure.
Their quest to stop Bowser will include a critical stop at Kong Kingdom to enlist the help of the Kong army, where Mario will need to defeat Cranky Kong’s son Donkey (Seth Rogen) in a gladiatorial arena of red girders hanging 2,000 feet in the air. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Mario will eventually chance upon a power-up to do just that, setting the stage for a go-kart race between the Kongs and the Koopas down Rainbow Road in a thrilling homage to ‘Mario Kart’. Before the final showdown with Bowser, Mario and Donkey Kong will also encounter the Maw-Ray, within which Mario will discover a power-up that will transform him into Tanooki Mario.
The list of Easter Eggs goes on, including the spooky castle from ‘Luigi’s Mansion’, the moons from ‘Super Mario Galaxy’, and especially the Super Star which will turn Mario and Luigi into the titular ‘Super Mario Brothers’. Those who pay close attention will spot the more subtle references such as the original GameCube start-up sound, and those who are patient enough to sit through the end credits will be rewarded with the one and only appearance of the beloved Yoshi. The plot may be simple, but directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (who made the Teen Titans Go! series and its own subsequent big screen spinoff) and their screenwriter Matthew Fogel exercise wit, ingenuity and creativity to make this a greatest hits parade.
So as much as the critics can criticise it for being rote, simplistic or even commercial, you can mark our words that ‘The Super Mario Bros Movie’ will be an audience favourite. Like we said, almost four decades of Mario mean generations of people who have grown up with the franchise, and this deeply faithful animation will not only please kids who are growing up with Mario through their Nintendo Switches or Universal theme parks, but also their parents for whom this will undoubtedly be a sweet nostalgic throwback. It is super fun we dare say, so bring the whole family along for the ride.
(Everything you love about the Super Mario universe, this infectiously fun animation will delight both young and old alike)
Review by Gabriel Chong