The last time the Super Mario Brothers leapt to the big screen, the result was a dystopian nightmare. The 1993 live-action film was a murky mess that seemingly cursed video-game adaptations for decades.
Thirty years later, the boys are back in a far more attractive animated package, courtesy of Illumination. With both the Despicable Me and Sing franchises under its belt, the animation studio is slowly creeping up on rivals Pixar and Dreamworks. Given its iconic IP, The Super Mario Bros Movie could well be their biggest hit yet.
There’s no doubt that the artists at Illumination are wizards when it comes to visuals. This is a gorgeous film, as colourful as a pool of Skittles. It’s packed with wonderfully imagined environments to feast your eyes on. The character designs, meanwhile, stay very faithful to the games but boast an impressive amount of texture and detail.
Despite the polished animation, the screenplay seems like a first draft. That’s not to say it isn’t functional: it zips along at a decent pace and hits all the beats you’d expect. But there’s nothing particularly innovative or surprising either. The biggest issue is that there’s never any genuine sense of threat. The antagonistic Koopas are far too adorable, while the film’s big-bad, Bowser, is undermined by his hopeless infatuation for Princess Peach. This may all be game-accurate, but renders the movie dramatically weightless: all comic relief with no tension to actually relieve.
On the topic of comedy, The Super Mario Bros Movie is, unfortunately, just not funny enough. It’s obviously skewing to a very young audience, and kids may get a kick out of its sugar-coated silliness, but there’s none of the whip-smart wit of, for example, Mitchell’s vs The Machines or Illumination’s own Sing movies. There is one character who earns some proper laughs, a cutesy star with an extremely nihilistic outlook, but the writers go on to milk the joke for all it’s worth.
The voice cast is a mixed bag. Jack Black rocks as Bowser, and Charlie Day is a great fit for Luigi. Anya Taylor Joy (as Princess Peach) and Seth Rogen ( as Donkey Kong) are fine but have the least interesting characters to work with. It’s Chris Pratt as Mario, though, who’s the biggest problem. While Pratt was pitch-perfect as puppyish everyman Emmett in The Lego Movie, his voice just doesn’t fit as a working-class Italian-American (especially when compared to his cartoonishly stereotypical family). A more distinctive voice would have given our hero much more character.
Still, while the movie is forgettable, it’s a light and breezy ride made with obvious affection and deep respect for its source material. Fans of the game, and young kids, will have a lot to yell ‘Waa-hoo!’ about. For the rest of us, however, it’s cinematic candyfloss. Sweet, but not exactly satisfying.
A respectable big-screen adventure for the video-game icon, but it’s hardly ‘super’.
The Super Mario Bros is now showing at the Eden Cinemas