The Super Mario Bros. Movie review

The Super Mario Bros. movie is cute, and refreshingly free of adult-pandering

3 out of 5 stars

I do not watch a lot of animated movies or movies for kids. Having no kids of my own, I come across them a lot less than a parent might, and I live in constant fear of plopping myself down in front of one, paying attention for the requisite 90 minutes and coming out of it with just one thing to say about it.

“It’s cute.”

Cute seems to me to be just about the least desirable trait in a movie — not because I have an inherent distaste for cuteness, but perhaps because it’s so easy to obtain bite-size jolts of cuteness through various means (your Instagrams, TikToks and whatnot, not to mention just seeing a dog walk by) that sitting down for a heaping triple serving of cuteness seems like gluttony. Suffice to say that my expectations for The Super Mario Bros Movie (the first narrative, non-videogame property to be adapted from Nintendo’s flagship character since the misbegotten 1993 film) were not necessarily centered around expectations of cuteness; after all, I am exactly the kind of born-in-the-mid-’80s indoor kid that this film has its nostalgia lasers set to decimate. I am permeated with the essence of Mario even though I have not played a Mario videogame in something like 25 years and, thus, whether I like it or not, I am engaged in a complex Proustian duel with The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie, my friends, is cute.

Clearly aimed at young children and not, as one might surmise, irony-poisoned 40-somethings with disposable income going to Lego sets meant to stave off our still-distant but ever-looming death, The Super Mario Bros. Movie plays it as safe as possible for as long as it possibly can. Barely fleshing out what we know about its heroes, it throws Brooklyn plumber brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) into the Mushroom Kingdom, where the two brothers are separated. Mario falls in with Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), who introduces him to Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, who also finds herself under imminent attack from Bowser (Jack Black), who secretly wants to marry Peach so they can rule together — something that Peach is entirely unaware of.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie review

And on they go in a surprisingly straightforward plot devoid of subplots, asides or other distractions. Backstory is kept to a minimum and colourful explosions of every imaginable shade are kept to a maximum. It seems obvious that the 30 years that have elapsed since Nintendo licensed its fastest pony to the creation of a bizarre, pleather-encased approximation of Blade Runner have made them excessively cautious. There’s essentially nothing “for parents” here, no double entendres or pop cultural references likely to go over tykes’ heads as they sit entranced watching coloured polygons whiz by. There’s barely more story than what we already know, though the film remains propulsive enough for that to rapidly become an afterthought. Eagle-eyed nerds will spot plenty of Easter eggs in the background, but there will be no real poke in the ribs to make sure you’ve noticed.

In fact, the only real surprise to be found here is that The Super Mario Bros. Movie isn’t really a naked nostalgia ploy. Most of these things are designed with a two-pronged approach: the parents will show the kids the thing they loved, so they can sell both ugly distressed retro t-shirts with Princess Peach wearing Ziggy Stardust makeup to the parents and Legos to the kids. The Super Mario Bros. Movie pretty much cuts out the adults from that equation and aims right at the kids. That’s not to say that this is creatively or morally superior, mind you; in both ways, the only goal is to sell brightly coloured shit to people. 

In The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Luigi doesn’t make jokes about Breaking Bad. Princess Peach doesn’t talk about her trauma, nothing is designed to prepare children for the death of their grandparents and absolutely nothing is designed to make grown men cry. Mario mopes for about seven seconds in a pizzeria — this is the extent of grimdark, adulted-up content that this particular take on the material provides. This means there are very little surprise in the long run — you can essentially predict the outcome of the movie within its first five minutes — but it also feels somewhat refreshing considering the sheer amount of flopsweat-drenched world building that has been flung our way by franchises in general.  

Nostalgia hounds and others who are firmly stuck trying to recreate the last time they remember not being dead inside are likely to feel a little insulted that The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t cater to them but, ultimately, who cares? It’s fun, it’s cute, kids will like it. In my particular case, I will never have to be rendered insane as my (non-existent) kids watch it for the 800th time — your mileage, of course, may vary based on the existence of your children. Audiences have spent the last ten years being spoon fed the same old shit with the message that this shit was there to soothe your soul and remind you of your childhood to the point that there is very little outside of the same old shit being made and aimed at children. The Super Mario Bros. Movie treats today’s children exactly as it treated children thirty years ago — with lazy reverence, hoping for that filthy lucre. At least it’s honest about it. ■

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic)

The Super Mario Brothers Movie opened in Montreal theatres on April 5, and is streaming now in Canada on Prime Video.

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