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The Super Mario Bros Movie: A Dissapointing IP Cash Grab

Posted by May 28th, 2023 No Comments »

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)
Directed by Matthew Fogel
Starring Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor Joy, Charlie Day and Jack Black

Films for children do BIG BUSINESS. Some even “wow” the audience visually as well. Only a few do it all – box office success, stunning visuals, and a compelling, heartfelt story that connects with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is not one of these films.

I’ve been a fan of the Nintendo video game console since 1986, when I started playing games at my rich friends’ houses. I eventually saved up enough to get my own, and quickly became obsessed with games like Kid Icarus, Metroid, Mega Man, Ghosts ‘n Goblins and yes, Super Mario Bros.

Never having seen the 1993 Super Mario Bros live action film, 2023’s animated feature was my first-time seeing these characters – characters that I have loved for more 35 years – on the big screen. I chose the biggest and best screen I could find (I prefer AMC Dolby to IMAX) and settled into a capacity full theater on a Friday night. The mixture of attendees was three quarters adults and one quarter children. As the film began, the glee coming audibly from the children made the energy in the room exciting. I was ready for the adventure.

Instead, what I got was an hour and a half of product placements and easter eggs. Rather than deliver a compelling story told through well-rounded characters we care about, The Super Mario Bros. Movie offered a barely recognizable narrative arc driven by catch phrases and obscure references.

What was I looking for? Lawrence of Arabia, the Italian plumber version? No, but I had hoped the film would be an epic adventure, like the adventure I took when I discovered the warp levels and finally defeated Bowzer.

The only thing more unbearable than the story was the subpar visuals. When Puss in Boots The Last Wish built on the interesting new visual tones we saw with Marvel’s Into the Spiderverse, I assumed other studios, like Illumination, would take the cue and realize that a studio can make money on recognizable IP, visually challenge fans of all ages AND receive Oscar Nominations. (Into the Spiderverse even won). Instead, the studio offered the same exact visuals from the start to the finish with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. After the excitement of the colorful opening scenes, it quickly became boring to look at it.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie had big expectations for voice talent, too. Unfortunately, only one of the film’s talented actors was up to the task. Jack Black was hilarious as Bowswer; he truly made the character his own. The rest of the cast might well have been actual voice talent, because these actors – who usually get paid for their faces – did nothing special with the voices for these beloved characters. The most disappointing was Charlie Day as Luigi. It seemed like the Always Sunny in Philadelphia alum was trying to tap into the zaniness of the character, but just couldn’t pull it off like Black. Meanwhile, Anya Taylor Joy and Chris Pratt didn’t seem to try at all. I won’t begrudge them a paycheck, but DAMN – you were Starlord and the Witch, have some pride!

Other than Black’s performance, the only positive about the The Super Mario Bros. Movie was the sound design, which took cues from the original game sounds by composer Koji Kondo and dropped them in at the opportune moments alongside classic sound effects that play like earworms in the minds of nerds all over the world.

I am glad the children in the audience were excited when Mario ate the blue mushroom and turned super small. I’m glad the chaos of Mario Kart elicited screams. But, as an adult, watching this monotonous IP cash grab was painful.

If films from studios doing it right, like Sony Animation with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Dreamworks with the latest Puss in Boots, are delivering A+ and A- films, then this latest from Illumination is a D-.

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