One of the most beloved fantasy stories of all time is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. Originally written in 1865, the story has been told in movies numerous times with Disney’s animated 1951 version probably being the most popular. However, many people are fans of the characters, not the actual story. The plot of the Wonderland story is rather thin. The first half of the story deals with Alice’s journey trying to find the White Rabbit and the second half deals with Alice’s journey trying to get out of Wonderland. It ends with Alice realizing that it was all a dream and not much else. Even Walt Disney admitted that the film lacked heart. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is similar to the Alice tale but instead of falling down a rabbit hole, the twin plumbers jump down a green sewer pipe.
Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and many others have been beloved characters of Nintendo video game fans since their inceptions back in the early 1980’s. They are colorful characters with distinct personalities but without any real backstories. For a screenwriter, that can be a good thing as there is no story that they are locked into telling. That is unless that story is a terrible one. The 1993 live action Super Mario Bros. movie’s storyline was so bad, the film was a critical and commercial failure. Unfortunately, the new animated tale has a similar fate but to a lesser degree. Even so, there is no doubt that The Super Mario Bros. Movie will still be a huge success. Why? It’s light, bright and features those characters that kids love.
Matthew Fogel’s storyline actually begins with promise. The Mario twins (Mario voiced by Chris Pratt and Luigi by Charlie Day) have just quit their jobs to begin a new plumbing business. They are proud of their first TV commercial for their business, but their family is less than impressed. The patriarch shares his disappointment with Luigi quitting a steady job just to follow his dream of owning his own business and “dragging” his brother with him.
Their first plumbing job doesn’t go so well, but the pair are encouraged for a second chance to prove themselves when they learn of a plumbing emergency in Brooklyn. While investigating, Mario and Luigi get sucked into a green sewer pipe. The two then become separated with Mario landing in the Mushroom Kingdom and Luigi in a much darker one.
Knowing how fearful his brother must be, Luigi is determined to rescue Luigi with the help of a walking, talking mushroom named Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). But the princess is having her own troubles. Bowser (Jack Black), a large, spiky turtle king, wants to marry her and will stop at nothing to have her. That is pretty much the whole plot. The rest of the bloated story is taken up with the heroes going through a serious of challenges, similar to the ones that they face in their video games.
While the Super Mario Bros. plot is super-thin, kids are going to LOVE this movie. Not for the story, but for those animated characters who act and move just like you expect them to with the exception of Princess Peach. While still sweet, she is a warrior and doesn’t need a short plumber to save her, thank you very much. The story is fast paced and punctuated with pop songs from the 1980’s including Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” and Aha’s “Take on Me.”
Despite fans’ complaints that Mario and Luigi are not voiced by Charles Martinet (who voices them in their video games), Pratt and Day do a decent job of creating a character and not just voicing the lines. However, once again, Keegan-Michael Key proves that he is the secret sauce for animated movies. (His portrayal of Honest John was a bright spot in Disney’s otherwise lackluster Pinocchio.) Seth Rogan and Fred Armisen also do a fine job as Donkey Kong and his father, Cranky Kong respectively. The film’s music also serves as a character. Brian Tyler has composed a score that is faithful to the music of the video games while also adding something new using a full orchestra, choir and bands. The end credits music is thoroughly enjoyable.
Parents will also appreciate positive messages in the film, albeit brief, including themes of the importance of family, learning how to overcome difficulties, working together as a team, etc. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a story to flesh those concepts out. And kudos to Illumination for avoiding toilet humor and distasteful jokes. The movie is rated PG for “action and mild violence”, but even that is a stretch. This is safe kiddy fare.
So, like many of Illuminations other films, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is okay, but it could have been great. As it is, it’s cute but forgettable. The difference between The Super Bros. Movie and say a Pixar or DreamWorks movie which appeal with kids and adults alike, is the lack of an engaging plot with depth and heart. Perhaps directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic can insert some in the next chapter, if there is one, but given the tease end credit scene, it is clear that they expect that there will be a sequel.
Main image: Illumination / Universal
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