Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 32 minutes, Director – Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
After being taken from New York to the Mushroom Kingdom plumber Mario (Chris Pratt) finds himself going on a journey to save the unfamiliar universe whilst trying to find his kidnapped brother Luigi (Charlie Day).
After seeing the advert that he and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) have forked out for to publicise their brand new plumbing business Mario (Chris Pratt) asks where the intense faux-Italian accents (they could rival Jared Leto in House Of Gucci) were a good idea. In actuality their accents are much less forced, the actors generally use their own voices. Although, Pratt often slips into something of a slight Italian-American accent, the consistency of which matches his somewhat wavering voice performance throughout the film. The idea to use the accents in the advert may have been a first idea that was run with, much like many of the events within Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros Movie.
The titular duo find themselves transported, via a giant green pipe, from Brooklyn to the unfamiliar terrain of the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom. However, while Mario finds himself meeting various mushroom-shaped people all called Toad (one in particular played by Keegan-Michael Key) and their leader Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), Luigi is taken down a darker path and is captured by Bowser (Jack Black) – looking to either destroy or take over the kingdom. It’s a race against time for Mario and Peach to assemble a team to help them stop Bowser before its too late. There’s so little time, in fact, that within sixty seconds of meeting Peach throws Mario onto a training course filled with replica obstacles and power-up blocks (largely providing mushrooms which he has a dislike for).
Throughout such scenes, and indeed the film as a whole, there’s an abundance of references from musical motifs and background dialogue to more upfront visual elements involved in the scene or sequence. It becomes apparent that there’s a lot here that’s very much for the fans. Those who love or grew up with the Mario franchise, or simply video game fans in general. For more casual viewers, who may themselves identify a number of the references, things may very well feel overstuffed with these nods, particularly as they’re surrounded by a set of events which feel rather familiar and somewhat placed in a set of first ideas largely wanting to use elements from as many different games as possible.
The Mario Kart sequence/s which looked so fun in the trailer aren’t explored much further, simply using a couple of ideas and then moving on to the next stage of the relatively short narrative (perhaps one of the reasons the film remains generally watchable is the short run-time). You wish for such moments to simply be that bit more fleshed out, have a bit more fun with the sequence and involve you more by spending a bit more time in the moment instead of using it as a device to get from one place to another. Multiple sequences feel this way throughout the film, again; more for those going for the fact it’s a Mario movie and the links to the games, and while there might not be anything too troubling and you can still sit and watch things pan out you don’t always properly engage with the action and at times border on frustration.
As a whole things feel rather basic, and never quite aware or referential in terms of the references and general nature of the film – directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic had previously co-written the excellent Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, while Minions: The Rise Of Gru co-writer Matthew Fogel takes on a sole screenplay credit here. The various details are generally just there, sometimes playing into the scene or being a major part of it and sometimes not. It comes down to the recurring point of consistency within the film. Yes, plenty of elements work well enough and make for a perfectly fine, if basic, watch but there’s a lot at play that wavers and never quite settles down. Maybe not as much as Pratt’s accent but if certain ideas were played with a bit more and developed then there would perhaps be a slightly improved quality to the film as it would feel less crammed with points and work perhaps more for a wider audience.
For fans of the franchise, and indeed younger audiences, the abundance of references and sequences may appeal, however to a more general audience frustrations begin to appear as The Super Mario Bros Movie presents a handful of inconsistencies in its rush to tell a story made up of what feel like first ideas.