Will Donahue ‘24
As of me writing this article, Illumination and Nintendo’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is already the highest-grossing film of 2023 – and is tracking to pass the billion-dollar mark before long (Deadline). If you ask me, there are no surprises here; “Mario” has been one of the world’s most popular multimedia franchises for decades now. Kids, teens, and adults alike share cherished memories of playing “Mario” games on the Wii, or the Gamecube, or the Switch, or what have you. Combine that multi-generational appeal with Illumination’s track record of crowd-pleasing animation, and you have a recipe for success. But does the movie live up to its record-breaking box office run?
In short: no. But in long: it’s complicated. For our Eggplant edition a few weeks back, I wrote a fake review for “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” where I describe it as some kind of cinematic nirvana. But even though I was only joking, it turns out the real audience reactions have been similarly positive; the movie is currently sitting at a whopping 96% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, a stark contrast with the 58% score from critics. And if I’m being honest, I’m with the critics on this one – “Mario” is a beautiful-looking piece of animation held together by a paper-thin plot. It’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s far from the best.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to love here. There are some running gags (such as Mario and Luigi’s rivalry with a menacing dog) that got a good laugh out of me. And from a pure visual standpoint, this is one of the best animated films I’ve seen in a while, and definitely the best I’ve seen from Illumination (though to be honest, that’s not a high bar). The characters maintain the same looks we know and love from the games, but the extra care given to minor details makes them feel just as fresh as they are familiar. Even the voice acting is solid all around – I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chris Pratt is not, in fact, a horrible choice to play Mario.
But on the whole, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a forgettable experience. The plot feels less like a cohesive narrative and more like a vehicle for fan service and nostalgia. And to be clear, fan service is not an inherently bad thing; as a fan myself, I can appreciate a good bit of service so long as it feeds into a larger plot. But in the case of “Mario”, the sheer amount of visual references, inside jokes, and nostalgic musical cues overwhelm what little plot there is. That’s to say nothing of the flat characters, cringeworthy dialogue, or obnoxious use of licensed music throughout the film. Seriously – if I have to hear “Holding Out for a Hero” in any more films that aren’t “Shrek 2”, I’m going to jump off a cliff.
I’ve seen people online say that the critics are being too harsh towards “Mario”, or that their expectations are too high for a kids’ movie, or that they simply hate fun. And as a former kid myself, I must disagree. Kids are not allergic to good storytelling – they can appreciate quality entertainment just like the rest of us. For a recent point of comparison, look at “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”, where the movie’s all-ages appeal does not come at the expense of quality. And while I adore “Puss in Boots”, it does make me mourn the “Mario” movie that could have been. There’s absolutely no reason we could not have gotten a “Mario” movie with a decent plot alongside colorful animation and copious amounts of fan service. But as usual, Illumination gave us the bare minimum.
Photo courtesy of Wired
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