A couple weeks ago, my gorgeous, saintly, and astonishingly tolerant wife accompanied her big dorky nerdball husband (that’s me, follow along here) on a date to see the Super Mario Movie. She thought it was pretty good. I LOVED IT.
There’s a crazy split between the critic score and the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s the first thing that should tell you what kind of movie this is.
What were the critics expecting, French new wave cinema? It’s gonna be a fun action-adventure movie, and what else does it need to be? What else did anyone want it to be?
Anyway, at this point, if you’re anywhere within this movie’s target demographic, you’ve probably already seen it, so I don’t need to go too deep into a recap of the film’s plot. (If you haven’t seen it, this is your SPOILER ALERT.) Let’s just take the warp pipe right to what I have to say about it!
First off, the controversy over the casting of Chris Pratt as Mario is way overblown. Best Mario ever? Nah, that headline is blatant clickbat, I admit it, and thanks for reading! But was he awful? Did he ruin the legacy of Mario forever? Would I rather have listened to Charles Martinet doing a stereotypical Italian accent in falsetto for an hour and a half? Definitely not, absolutely not, and actually no, not really.
I grew up with Mario being voiceless in the games. I first played Donkey Kong in 1981 and was there for all of Mario’s subsequent adventures in DK Junior, Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros, and on and on. In media throughout the years, Mario had been played on TV by Peter Cullen on the Saturday Supercade cartoon in 1983, by Lou Albano on the Super Mario Bros. Super Show in 1989, and by Bob Hoskins in the Super Mario Bros. movie 1993. So by 1996’s Super Mario 64, Charles Martinet was already the fourth voice of Mario to us old-timers. True, he was the first in-game voice, making his the “official” voice, which I guess is where the controversy comes from. But as far as I’m concerned, Pratt — a.k.a. Mario number 5 — did a fine job as a Brooklyn plumber.
To that end, the rest of the all-star cast was also pretty perfect. Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, and the hilarious Keegan Michael-Key — all of whom I’m a fan of — were great as they rounded out the main group as Luigi, Peach, and Toad, respectively. The inimitable Jack Black was perfect as a deranged yet vulnerable Bowser, and Seth Rogen brought Donkey Kong to life as a cocky, powerful young Kong who wants to make his father, Cranky, proud. And yes, Charles Martinet is in the movie too, playing both Mario’s dad and an incidental character named Giuseppe, who speaks in Mario’s now-classic game voice.
The story moves along at a pretty good pace, and though it throws a lot at us, there’s nothing cerebral about it. We get to see Mario’s Brooklyn stomping grounds, the Mushroom and Kong Kingdoms, and Bowser’s Dark World. There are a ton of great jokes and sight gags (the part where Mario pukes up the mushroom and turns small almost killed me), funny dialog, and clever references (which I’ll get into soon). A few sequences are actually shown in a side-view, mimicking a video game.
Of course, we must talk about those Easter eggs and in-jokes. Whereas most reviewers recognize (and sometimes bemoan) the fact that the Super Mario Movie contains references galore to be chuckled at by those in the know, I fully admit to being, as the kids say, there for it.
There’s Punch-Out!! Pizzeria, full of photos of the boxers from the game. There’s the Jump Man arcade game, a parody of the original Donkey Kong cabinet, being played by the aforementioned Giuseppe who looks more like Mario’s original 1981 design who was, of course, known as Jumpman at the time. Mario has left his previous employer, Wrecking Crew, to start the plumbing business with his brother Luigi. There are Duck Hunt images in several places. Mario plays a game of Kid Icarus on his NES at home. A sign in the mysterious underground area reads “Level 1-2.” There’s an antiques shop in the Mushroom Kingdom full of pixelated items, where a young customer is instructed to blow into an NES game to make it work. When Mario faces off against Donkey Kong, the area contains red girders and blue ladders, where DK chucks barrels at him; and, when DK almost loses, the ominous Donkey Kong intro music is played. Much of the action is based on Mario Kart and Smash Bros. You’ll even see Disk-kun, the Famicom Disk System mascot, in the climactic final battle. And this is just what I can recall off the top of my head. So yeah, Easter egg hunters are gonna have a ball.
And I have to bring up one more reference which was either unintentional, or aimed squarely at us real gaming OGs, I’m actually not quite sure: When the brothers are split up and Luigi lands in the Dark World, he looks around and says, “Mario, where are you?” Which could either be a perfectly logical line, or it could be a reference to the old TV commercial for the Atari home versions of Mario Bros, itself a parody of the theme song from the even older TV comedy, Car 54.
I prefer to believe it’s the latter.
The last thing I’d like to gush about is the score. The orchestral soundtrack composed by Brian Tyler, incorporates all of Koji Kondo’s classic Mario themes, including the iconic SMB main song, underground tune, and victory themes, the Peach’s castle theme from Mario 64, and tons more. It’s really perfect — so much so that I’ve been considering picking up the soundtrack on vinyl from iam8bit.
Final thoughts — the Super Mario Bros. Movie is probably the best video game-adapted movie ever. Yes, even after halfway decent attempts like Silent Hill and Sonic the Hedgehog, I think they finally actually got a video game movie right. Kinda feels like when they finally got a Marvel movie mostly right for the first time with X-Men, and then really took off with Iron Man.
Which then leads me to wonder, what’s next? The box office for Super Mario was so huge that there will definitely be a sequel. But I’m also hoping that this finally opens the door for the possibility of more Nintendo projects like Zelda, and — dare we dream? — Metroid. In fact, maybe they’ll go full MCU and create an NCU (Nintendo Cinematic Universe), where all the individual character movies will culminate in a Smash Bros movie.
Who knows? But for now, the Super Mario Movie is a trip through the Mushroom Kingdom that literally has something for all Mario fans, old and new.
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