The first part of this review is free from major spoilers. The end of the spoiler-free section is clearly marked.
It’s time to review The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which has finally made its way to on-demand streaming after wrapping up its exclusive theatrical run. And straight away I can tell you this: I had an absolute blast with Mario, Peach, Luigi, and the rest of the Nintendo gang! The Super Mario Bros. Movie is definitely one of the best non-Disney animated films that I’ve seen in a long time, and it absolutely has to be a contender for the title of best animated picture of the year.
The film puts a twist on the typical story of the Super Mario series, but brings all of the familiar faces that fans of Nintendo’s games would expect. There are so many references, callbacks, and cameos that it’s impossible to count, and speaking as someone who’s followed Nintendo’s games for more than thirty years, I appreciated every single one of them!
But this isn’t just fan service that only the hardest of hardcore Nintendo lovers can enjoy. The film is accessible to newcomers, too, with a pretty barebones, easy-to-follow story that doesn’t get bogged down. In fact, the story progresses from chapter to chapter with a real light-footedness, with no scene or sequence lingering too long. For kids, and especially for a generation raised on short-form videos and TikToks, I suspect the timing and pacing of the film will be pitch-perfect!
For me… well, I could’ve entertained a story that was at least slightly denser, one that didn’t hop so readily from point to point. There were some moments that felt unearned, perhaps, as Mario seemed to very easily and readily accept his fate in the Mushroom Kingdom, and friendships that appeared to form very quickly. But this is a film for kids – and with a story with such strength and heart, picking on any of these things feels gratuitous and unnecessary.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie accomplished the difficult task of taking elements from the games and making them into something truly worthy of a place on the big screen. The music of the Mario series was reimagined in a style I can only describe as “epic,” with the familiar tunes from the video game series transformed into an heroic score. Visually, the film leaned heavily into the aesthetic of the games – but used its budget to make Mario, Peach, and the Mushroom Kingdom look better than ever.
There had been some criticism of the decision to cast Chris Pratt as Mario, but I felt he did a perfectly creditable job in the role. Mario has never needed to be voiced this extensively before, so bringing in an experienced actor – while not necessarily everyone’s first choice – was the right call. The rest of the voice cast likewise put in excellent performances, and their characters came to life as a result.
There were a couple of sequences in the first few minutes of the film that I felt might be too scary for very young children – and it’s worth being aware of this if you have very young kids or children who are especially sensitive. These sequences didn’t linger for very long nor have much of an impact on the story overall, but I suspect they may have gone a little too far for at least some children in the audience.
Overall, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an absolute blast, and one I highly recommend. If you don’t mind spoilers for the admittedly rather formulaic and predictable story, stick around, because we’re going to talk about a few story details up next.
This is the end of the spoiler-free portion of the review! Expect spoilers for The Super Mario Bros. Movie from here on out!
Up first, let’s talk about how The Super Mario Bros. Movie puts a twist on the typical “save the princess” trope. Peach is presented as someone familiar with the world of the Mushroom Kingdom, and thus she has the upper hand over Mario, the newcomer. Through a pretty quick montage, Mario is the one who has to learn the ropes; Peach already knows how the power-ups work and how battles in this universe are fought.
But that means Mario needs someone to save; a reason to set out on this adventure and face off against Bowser. Luigi, who’s the easily-frightened younger brother, is perfect for this role. Mario sets out on a quest not to save a random princess – but to save his brother. It’s a perfectly-executed twist on what is a pretty tired and outdated formula, and it works perfectly.
The karting sequence was perhaps my favourite in the entire film! I’ve been a Mario fan for years, sure, but Mario Kart is definitely one of my all-time favourite series. The way it was incorporated into the film was hilarious, and it was a surprisingly tense sequence as Bowser’s troops dropped in uninvited. Many of the items from the Mario Kart games were present – banana skins, shells, bullet bills, and even the dreaded blue shell! It was a fantastic sequence, and Rainbow Road has never looked better or more beautiful!
Although the designs of many of the vehicles were based on the Mario Kart games, there’s potential for a future Mario Kart release to take advantage of some of the new designs created for the film. In fact, the time to cash in on that is now, so Nintendo really ought to consider updating Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with things like Toad’s off-road kart and the Koopas’ combat vehicles. It would even be possible to include one or two of the prominently-featured characters from the film as new characters for the game.
The world of the Mushroom Kingdom was brought to life through some excellent animation work, and Illumination is to be commended. The cartoony aesthetic of the Mario games was familiar on the big screen – but it looked better than ever. Peach’s castle, first seen in the iconic Super Mario 64, looked fantastic, and the bright, happily-lit Mushroom Kingdom stood in stark contrast to the “dark lands” and Bowser’s castle.
It’s also fair to say that these classic Nintendo characters have literally never looked better, too! There was previously-unseen detail not only in the main characters, but in every minor background character, too. Whether we were looking at Dry Bones, Shy Guys, Toads, Koopa Troopas, Kongs, or anyone else, the animation was fabulous and consistent. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt that the animation work was sub-par or out-of-place.
To return to the film’s story, one thing I admired was a willingness on the part of Nintendo – a company that hasn’t always shown itself to have a sense of humour about its properties – to recognise the inherent silliness in Bowser’s scheme. Bowser wanted to force Peach to marry him, yet the specifics of how he possibly expected that to work had never been elaborated upon until now. Of course it makes sense that Peach would reject him – and the way in which this was played, with a nod and wink to the audience, was great.
I don’t think it had ever been canonically established where Mario and Luigi hailed from, nor how Peach and the others came to exist in the Mushroom Kingdom. So The Super Mario Bros. Movie had free rein to decide on its characters’ origin stories. Now, I could be wrong about this, as I’m no expert on the minutiae of Nintendo lore, but I’ve always assumed that Mario was Italian – not Italian-American. The decision to give him an Italian-American origin, and in the New York borough of Brooklyn, no less, feels like an oblique homage to 1993’s Super Mario Bros. – the live-action film that did so much to dissuade Nintendo from ever again taking its brands and franchises to the cinema!
So let’s wrap things up. Who is this film for? While I’d say that Nintendo fans and players will absolutely get more out of The Super Mario Bros. Movie than those unfamiliar with its source material, the easy-to-follow story and fairly basic characters should make it accessible to almost anyone – including the youngest kids. There’s a lot to enjoy here!
That being said, there are a handful of faults that keep The Super Mario Bros. Movie from being the greatest kids’ film I’ve ever seen. Some of its plot points – like the friendship between Mario and Toad, or Peach’s plan to defeat Bowser – were raced past incredibly quickly in a film that didn’t spend more than a couple of minutes on any scene or sequence. I could have happily spent a bit longer watching some of these things play out.
All in all, though, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is one of the better animated releases of recent years. It was a treat to see Mario and the gang taking part in a new kind of adventure, and while I have to hold up my hands and say that 1993’s Super Mario Bros. is one of those “so bad it’s good” films that I consider somewhat of a guilty pleasure, this new animated outing surpasses it in practically every way. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend an hour-and-a-half, and especially if you’ve spent some time with Nintendo and Mario already, it’s very easy to recommend The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is available to stream now and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray later in the year. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the copyright of Nintendo and Illumination. This review contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.