Movies: Super Mario Bros. and the Quest for Hype!

The Mario Bros is an animated film that tries to condense roughly forty years of gameplay and lore into a ninety-two-minute movie. It is not the most unique story; the fish out of water turns out to be the chosen one finding where they belong, but that is to be expected from a children’s movie. Where it shines is in the writing, voice acting, and animation. This is not High art but no one going into a Super Mario Bros movie is expecting that. It is however very respectable and respectful of the source material. As for me? Well, we’ll just see how respectful I am.

First and foremost, I am not a gamer. I make no claims to being one, that particular sect of nerdom is not my milieu, but even I have played a Mario game here or there in my day. I appreciated the little in-jokes spread throughout the film as a nod to the games (probably seen as a sledgehammer to the seasoned professionals). Little jokes like ‘Jump-Man’ as the arcade game, ‘Next Castle Pizza’ in the opening, and Luigi’s ringtone. Help to lessen the whiplash of a reference by either incorporating it into the world thus normalizing it or minimizing it to not draw too much focus.

As I said, I’m not a gamer, (you can fact check, see Paragraph 2 Line 1) I’m a writer, I may not be much of one but I got some credits to my name dag-gum-it! Anyway, as I ease further into senility I will try to refocus. Ah, yes. Writing. Story. The story is your basic hero’s journey or Disney princess. Our Main characters branch out on their own to discover few is any have faith in their delusions of grandeur resulting in an impetuous attempt at heroism for the wrong reasons, leading to a loss, i.e. Luigi, and after several trials and tribulations, they emerge victorious overcoming their flaw, redeeming themselves, and realizing they are a hero. Anyone can write it, but the key to a good and fondly remembered movie is likable characters.

Are the characters likable? Jack Black steals the show. He is Bowser, playing to his strengths of out-of-control zany characters he dives into the Koopa king’s disconnection with reality. A jealous lovesick puppy, who breathes fire. Luigi is played perfectly by Charlie Day, I don’t think anyone had an issue with that announcement. Pratt! How dis the man voicing Mario do? Well, as an Italian American I of course meticulously and obsessively focused on… yeah I can’t go on with that joke… Pratt was great. He hid his voice well enough, made it more animated, and incorporated some of Mario’s verbal mannerisms but not enough to get grating. He was good, for a non-Italian. Peach was fine, as was Toad, and Cranky Kong. The only voice I thought was out of place was Seth Rogen’s Donkey Kong, I can’t buy him as a muscular chauvinist.

The animation is fantastic. From the opening to the second after-credit scene, there is something interesting on screen. The fine details such as the hairs in the Mario Brothers mustaches are incredibly believable. The fabric on the clothing and bark on the trees are so textured you could feel them from your seat. At times when people remove their gloves they could pass as photorealistic, which becomes all the more terrifying when you see the faces and bodies they’re attached to. And speaking of bodies, the level of detail they put on Princess Peaches’ bumper in her racing outfit makes me believe that the under-desk of Illumination Entertainment Studio must look like a Jackson Pollock made by an army of spiders. I mean it’s clear they are siding with Bowser and Mario just happens to be the good guy.

The music was surprising, in a good way. I thought going into this it would be only pop songs of this era, and me being the old curmudgeon that I am want nothing to do with that. Immediately hit with a Beastie Boys anthem over a side scroll adventure threw Brooklyn set my mind at ease. And ending with Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr. Blue Sky was the perfect finishing touch for a new beginning in a strange and exciting world for the Bros.

Let’s recap. The voice acting? Good. The animation? Exquisite. Story? Plain but done well with good writing. There is little I can actually say negatively about this Mario Bros. which tries to bridge generations, I respect its attempt. Now the question is: does it succeed? I believe so. I want a sequel or a Luigi Mansion spin-off. If nothing it gave us a psychotically cynical ghost praising death and despair. You know. For the kids. Honestly, it’s really good, go see it. Stop reading and go.  

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