In a world without the Internet, the Family Computer game Super Mario Bros. was very much part of every millennial’s childhood growing up.
Before the craziness of multiplayer role-playing games and esports, a generation was in awe at these pixelated plumbers side-scrolling their way to rescue a princess from a fire-breathing turtle. Reruns of the hybrid live-action and animated series The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! on local TV were also the 90s kids’ entry point to the Mushroom World. There was a poorly received live-action movie in 1993 but we would rather erase that from our memory.
But could it pull off as an animated feature? I’ll give you a resounding yes! The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fun-filled adventure film that not only brings the parents and thirtysomethings on a nostalgic trip but is also an entertaining movie for kids now only discovering the strong bond between brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day).
Since its roots have been in the 80s, the film threw away the overused plot of Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) being a damsel in distress. Instead of being kidnapped for the nth time, the updated Peach is a leader who proactively looks for allies to fight the impending invasion of Bowser (Jack Black), the king of the Koopas. Because the toads or mushroom people are “adorable”, they have to recruit the army of Kongs, sapient primates whose royal family includes the muscle-flexing Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen). A brave scavenger toad, also named Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), joins Mario as his new “best friend."
There was backlash for not recruiting an Italian to voice the protagonists but the casting does not hamper the story. A scene after airing their plumbing services ad even went meta with Mario asking if the accent was too much. To be fair, the rest of the family was voiced by Italian actors Rino Romano, John DiMaggio, and Jessica DiCicco.
Expect to enjoy plenty of throwbacks for a Nintendo gamer. The opening scene in Brooklyn, New York sees Mario reenacting the original “World 1:1” in Super Mario. Bros., copying its side-scrolling perspective and layout of boulders. The whole feature is a mash-up of different Super Mario Bros. games that include Spike, a construction foreman from Wrecking Crew, Dry Bones or zombie Koopas from Super Mario Bros. 3, the spooky music from Luigi’s Mansion, the rainbow road from Mario Kart, and even the crossover game Mario vs. Donkey Kong, bringing their arcade rivalry to the big screen. Another spinoff character Diddy Kong, appears as a fan of Donkey Kong, during an arena battle.
But the standout easter egg is Lumalee, a star character from the Super Mario Galaxy game series. Lumalee appears as one of Bowser’s prisoners who is nihilistic and thrilled at the prospect of death. Hilarity ensues when you combine his dark humor plus the innocent voice of Juliet Jelenic, daughter of co-director Michael Jelenic.
Another strength of the movie is the music. Apart from the remixed versions of the old TV series’ opening rap theme, game scoring, and some 80s tunes, Bowser amuses viewers with his cringe-worthy serenades for Peach. Jack Black’s vocals are lit, even as a monstrous tyrannical turtle.
As for the misses, it puts Luigi on the back burner for most of the series, having his role being switched with Peach’s. In the games, this has been rectified with his own Luigi’s Mansion series. Here’s hoping that he would share the spotlight with his brother in the sequel.
While it is a straightforward, light story, The Super Mario Bros. Movie hits all power-up boxes when the gaming company Nintendo and the animation studio behind the Minions, Illumination, sink their teeth into the animated revamp we never thought we’d see. You owe it to yourself to feel like a child again so don’t miss this trip to the Mushroom Kingdom.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is showing in Philippine cinemas starting Wednesday, April 19. Watch the trailer below.