Directed by: Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Written by Patrick Hao
In its first weekend, somehow “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has become the center point of a pointless culture war on whether this movie should be subjected to the same types of scrutiny as any normal movie. What is interesting about this iteration of the debate, one that has long been waged online starting with the rise of message boards and Ain’t it Cool News culture, is that the tone has shifted in recent years. It is no longer about whether a movie is good or not. It is not even about whether the movie serves its particular audience. Rather, the undercurrent of this debate seems more to be finding some sort of justification or artistic merit within an unabashed capitalistic endeavor.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is very much a movie of its time. It is a brand movie – a victory lap for Nintendo executives to celebrate their version of Mickey Mouse. In 93 minutes, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” presents a movie faithful to a series of games and spinoffs that was never more than an elaborate series of puzzles and quests, with a story and lore that is, with all due respect, inconsequential. Credit must be given to a movie that decided to hue closely to that type of source material.
Co-directors, Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, earnest yet tongue-in-cheek approach to the movie is similar to their previous film “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies!” The film follows Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day), two struggling Italian-Americans trying to run their plumbing business in Brooklyn. For some reason, they are ridiculed by their family for such efforts. When a pipe bursts, the two brothers investigate being sucked into a different universe, Luigi in the Dark Lands and Mario into the Mushroom Kingdom. There Mario is met by Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy), the ruler of Mushroom Kingdom preparing for the incoming battle with Bowser, the Koopa king. Meanwhile, Luigi is caught by Bowser, whose only goal is to act on his infatuation for Princess Peach and marry her, even if it takes ruling over the Mushroom Kingdom to convince her.
What this plot serves to do is allow the filmmakers to jam-pack as many Mario references as they can. There is an ode to the Mario Kart selection screen. The block power-ups are actually block power-ups. The training montage resembles a stage in Super Mario Bros. 2. The Mushroom Kingdom even recruits Donkey Kong and the Kingdom of Kong (do I smell spin-off?). Some child-friendly messaging is jammed in there. Mario constantly fails and gets back up – an explicit attempt to capture the trope of restarting a Mario level every time you are hit by Goomba and fail.
But it is clear from the Illumination logo what this movie is intended to be. With its sugary sweet colors and incessant obvious soundtrack (songs like “Holding Out for Hero” that play below the training montage give you all you need to know about the sophistication of the soundtrack), “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is meant to be something that parents put on for their children for some much-needed rest. There’s very little difference between this movie and those auto-generated YouTube videos meant to autoplay after a “Daniel Tiger” song besides a much larger budget and Nintendo’s authorization.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” seems perfectly happy being what it is – a successful brand crossover meant to inflate the bottom line. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” might as well have been made by the advertising company Dentsu because that is all it is. The frustrating thing about the culture war is having to litigate whether this movie is anything more than that.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” Trailer