First things first: the voice. When the trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie dropped in October, many fans were dismayed that the iconic title character sounded less like an Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn and more like, well, Chris Pratt. The controversy hasn’t exactly snowballed since then, but it has rumbled on sufficiently for Pratt to address it in recent interviews. “I think your childhood is firmly intact,” he reassured Mario fans at the film’s L.A. premiere this Sunday – a savvy acknowledgement of just how beloved this video game franchise has become since Nintendo launched it in the ’80s.
The disparity between Pratt’s Mario voice and the thick Italian accent familiar from the video games is dealt with early on. In a TV ad for their family plumbing business, we see Mario and younger brother Luigi (Charlie Day) speaking in exaggerated accents that they don’t use in their everyday lives, presumably as a marketing gimmick. Sadly, this deft touch proves to be something of a red herring. As The Super Mario Bros. Movie progresses, it’s hobbled by a perfunctory plot and some lazy creative choices. At seemingly random junctures, classic ’80s bangers by A-ha and Bonnie Tyler are crowbarred into the soundtrack, perhaps to add a dash of nostalgia that otherwise eludes the enterprise.
While cracking on with a plumbing job underneath the Brooklyn sidewalks, the brothers are accidentally sucked into another dimension. Mario finds himself in the Mushroom Kingdom, a friendly realm presided over by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), but Luigi is less lucky. The nervier brother gets dumped in the Dark Lands ruled by Bowser (Jack Black), a deluded turtle-like monster determined to make Peach his bride whether she wants him or not. With the Princess as his mentor, Mario sets off on a quest to find his lost sibling, while Bowser becomes increasingly jealous of the bond that is developing between the “moustachioed human” and his would-be wife.
Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, who previously teamed up for the animated TV series Teen Titans Go!, keep the pace brisk as they hit beats familiar from the video games. There’s a droll duel between Mario and his longtime foe Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) and an extended Mario Kart sequence that features the film’s most spectacular visuals: a dazzling cruise down a rainbow road. Sadly, their initially witty riffs on the games’ visual grammar soon become repetitive. The Super Mario Bros. Movie often looks like a video game, but it’s not as fun as playing one.
Clearly, adapting the best-selling video game franchise of all-time into an equally ingenious movie is a tall order. The one previous attempt, a 1993 live-action film starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, was a box office flop that has since built a bit of a cult following. This one seems destined for the opposite fate: it’s faithful enough to tempt existing fans to the cinema, but too perfunctory to be pored over. Is the Mario movie super? To paraphrase one of the title character’s catchphrases, it’s-a mediocre.
- Director: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
- Starring: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day
- Release date: April 5 (in cinemas)