The Super Mario Bros. Movie

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

2023, PG, 92 min. Directed by Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic. Voices by Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 7, 2023

Picture this: An everyman hero, voiced by the universally liked Chris Pratt, goes on a quest, discovering along the way hidden depths within himself and surprising the audience with how soulful and inventive animated entertainment based on a kids game can be.

There are a lot of reasons to be nostalgic for 2014, and one of them was how The LEGO® Movie defied its seemingly cynical origins (there’s a registered trademark in its title, ffs) to prove a four-quadrant blockbuster could also be funny and startlingly weird and sincerely heartfelt. Despite sharing more than superficial similarities, The Super Mario Bros. Movie ticks exactly zero of those boxes.

Audiences will probably still show up, lured by a well-loved intellectual property (the Nintendo franchise that first saw life in 1983 as an arcade game) and thirsty for a family film (the last major studio theatrical picture was December’s zippy Puss in Boots: The Last Wish). With Hollywood in high panic over declining box office, every film released in theatres becomes a kind of referendum on the moviegoing experience. The Super Mario Bros. Movie, alas, feels like a straight-to-DVD release – dull and derivative.

Pratt and Day voice titular brothers Mario and Luigi, two Brooklyn plumbers who accidentally get sucked into another realm and are separated. Luigi lands in Dark Land (full of jump scares and skeletal Koopas that might be too spooky for younger viewers), while Mario touches down in Mushroom Kingdom. In the quest to save his brother, Mario connects with Princess Peach (Taylor-Joy), Toad (Key), and Donkey Kong (Rogen, one of the few semi-reliable sources of humor) to defeat the nefarious Bowser, voiced by Jack Black as a Meat Loaf-like crooner with designs on Peach.

Working from a script by Matthew Fogel (The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, Minions: The Rise of Gru), Teen Titans Go! creators Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic faithfully re-create characters, worlds, and gameplay from the first NES title and its many spinoffs. But to what end? Whatever invention there is here, it’s baked into the DNA. And whatever fan-service thrills we might get from seeing those familiar pneumatic pipes and Bullet Bills retrofitted for the big screen fall away fast when there’s nothing else to prop the thing up: not a compelling story or especially interesting voice performances or a single original idea. And when there’s nothing to emotionally invest in, then all that’s left is the nagging feeling you’d rather just be playing the damn game. Because, really, there’s only one scenario in which it’s pleasurable to passively watch someone else navigate the Rainbow Road, and that’s in a dorm room after generous bong rips.

This isn’t the first attempt to draw blood from stone when it comes to this particular Nintendo property. A nightmare-inducing live-action attempt starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo famously flopped 30 years ago. But in going to such great lengths to avoid that film’s grim weirdness, The Super Mario Bros. Movie filmmakers have flattened the concept into benign nothingness. They’ve course-corrected into the side of a mountain. There’s no heartbeat here.

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The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic

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