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‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’: Aesthetically pleasing in spite of flaws

Film based on Nintendo characters lacks substance behind snazzy animation

<p>The conflicts that the characters face are inconveniences at most and rarely turn out to be anything consequential.</p><p>Courtesy of Universal Pictures UK.</p>

The conflicts that the characters face are inconveniences at most and rarely turn out to be anything consequential.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures UK.

Few figures in pop culture history have seen and done more than Mario, the fictional Italian-American plumber and face of video game giant Nintendo. Since making his first red-capped appearance in the 1981 arcade game “Donkey Kong,” the mustachioed man has journeyed far beyond the confines of a construction site terrorized by a hostile ape. He’s taken adventures through the galaxy, participated in terribly dangerous go-karting and even had a go at “Dance Dance Revolution.” On Wednesday, April 5, Mario unlocked yet another achievement on his ever-expanding list — starring in a perfectly mediocre animated film by Illumination. 

When the movie opens, Mario (Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) have just quit their stable jobs to start their own plumbing business. After a failed first job, they find themselves dejected. But on the news that night, Mario and Luigi see that a burst underground pipe has put the entirety of Brooklyn in danger — and Mario thinks that they can be the ones to fix it. 

When this plan inevitably goes awry, Mario and Luigi find themselves sucked into a mysterious green pipe that sends them flying through a black abyss. Their courses eventually diverge, with Luigi ending up in a ghastly, lava-filled kingdom ruled by Bowser (Jack Black) and Mario finding himself in the more jovial Mushroom Kingdom ruled by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy).  

The film follows Mario’s quest as he, Peach, Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) and more try to rescue Luigi, while simultaneously uncovering Bowser’s true ambitions. It’s a very simple story with little intrigue, and viewers are never left on the edge of their seats as a result. The conflicts that the characters face are inconveniences at most and rarely turn out to be anything consequential.

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The uninspired, risk-averse nature of the story is somewhat counteracted by the film’s animation — which perfectly captures the essence of its source material, despite not being the most inventive stylistically. From the shell-protected Koopas to the mushroom-headed Toads, staple Mario characters look the best they ever have. And as locations like Peach’s Castle and the Kong Kingdom get introduced, Mario fans will undoubtedly feel giddy from the sheer attention to detail paid to these places.

But the narrative is too fast-paced to make all of these settings feel significant. There’s no time to stop and smell roses in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” as the film’s plot only seems to care  about getting from one place to the next, failing to dedicate any time to advancing the plot within these locations. The movie really only cares about the events that directly impact its story, which is upsetting given that this story is not compelling enough to hold up on its own.  

Similar to the video games the movie draws upon — which are designed to be aesthetically pleasing instead of story-driven — the film could have leaned heavily into purely visual elements to help make up for its narrative failings. Although “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” tries at times to dwell on emotional beats, it does so very noncommittally. 

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” does its job of making the world of the Mushroom Kingdom look marvelous in its transition to the silver screen, and for die-hard fans of the franchise, this could be enough to make the movie worthwhile. But with so much effort poured into crafting the film’s aesthetic, viewers may question what the story and characters could have been. While a Mario movie doesn't have to be deep by any means, it should at least remain memorable beyond the film’s runtime.

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Finn Kirkpatrick

Finn Kirkpatrick is an arts & culture editor. He is a junior from Los Angeles, California studying Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort. 



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