The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the Best Video Game Adaptation Yet
As a kid who grew up playing Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System, I had often imagined what a proper film adaptation would be like. The 1993 live-action adaptation strayed way too far from the source material and was a failure with audiences and critics. It stands as an example, along with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and the many works of director Uwe Boll, of why video game adaptations often are bad movies. Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie, however, is an imaginative and crowd-pleasing animated take on the best-selling Nintendo franchise that is better than nine-year-old me would have ever imagined.
Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) live in Brooklyn, New York. They are also plumbers of exceptional skill who just opened their own plumbing business serving the community they care very deeply for. When an inexplicable leak starts to wreak havoc on the streets of Brooklyn, the Super Mario Bros. rush to help stop the problem. They are then transported through pipe portals to a parallel universe and are separated.
Luigi is captured by Bowser, King of the Koopas (voiced by Jack Black), a vicious fire-breathing tortoise who seeks to conquer his world with his army of beasts. Mario lands in the Mushroom Kingdom, where he is greeted by the anthropomorphic mushroom Toad (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), who immediately pushes Mario into an adventure. Toad brings Mario to Princess Peaches (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy), the benevolent ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom and the object of King Bowser’s unrequited affection. They form a fellowship to confront Bowser before he conquers the Mushroom Kingdom, forces Peaches to be his bride, and executes Luigi.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is incredibly entertaining with dazzling animation. Mario, Luigi, and the rest are painted with a lush, colorful palette. Screenwriter Matthew Fogel, who also penned Minions: The Rise of Gru, crafts a straightforward story that brings to life many of the familiar characters while building a wondrous, new fantasy setting. It refuses to dwell on things like the physics of the Mushroom Kingdom, adding to the mystery. Like Star Wars, it cognizantly follows what is called “the hero’s journey,” a familiar template that many adventure stories have been built upon.
The film reveres the source material, never forgetting its target audience is youngsters and fans of the game. It is never patronizing nor settles for mediocrity, which is a relief for the adults in the audience. Parents and guardians will be relieved by the lack of risqué innuendo or scatological humor that is all too common in modern animated fare. They will also be delighted by the brisk 93-minute running time.
The film also uses the Super Mario Bros as a model of how people build flourishing communities. The bond Mario and Luigi have as brothers is particularly strong. If there is a problem, they can count on each other or their family. They have mastered a marketable skill that allows them to support themselves. They build trust in Brooklyn by providing honest, innovative plumbing services. Their former boss Spike (voiced by Sebastian Maniscalco) will be forced to become more competitive to stay in business, and the neighbors they serve are all the better for it. A thriving community also presupposes peaceful cooperation between people, and Mario and his friends know that stopping King Bowser’s conquest keeps their families and neighbors alive and safe.
Cynics may dismiss The Super Mario Bros. Movie as an elaborate commercial for Nintendo or a shameless cash grab. That all may be true, but so what? The motion picture industry exists to make money by selling entertainment to the public. Not every movie needs to be an exercise in highbrow art and children’s video games might not motivate producers enough to make a film that tops Citizen Kane or Casablanca. What directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic have accomplished is they have made the best Nintendo commercial yet. It is also a very financially successful commercial if you look at its box office receipts. It is also the most dazzling animated feature since The Lego Movie and the best video game adaptation yet.