After many years of poorly received efforts, we’re finally in a boom period of video game adaptations with the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Tetris, and the television version of The Last of Us achieving success and critical acclaim. Following a notorious live-action outing in 1993, the iconic platform-game plumber makes his animated cinema debut in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic. As the brothers attempt to get their family business off the ground in Brooklyn, they are sucked through a mysterious green pipe and land in separate new worlds. Mario (Chris Pratt) soon befriends Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and asks Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) for help. Meanwhile, Luigi (Charlie Day) is stuck in the Dark Lands where Koopa king Bowser (Jack Black) hatches his latest evil plan.
As you might expect, the premise is very simple but contains lots of fan-service to appease its long-serving target audience. With various sounds and sequences dragged and dropped from the many instalments of the franchise, there is fun to be had in seeing all your favourite characters introduced to the plot or hearing the line “it’ll work if you just blow on it” from a Mushroom Kingdom antiques dealer. Some of it works pretty well, like when the vibrant visuals mimic the retro 2D graphics of the beloved gameplay, or when the plucky protagonist takes on Donkey Kong in an enjoyable scrap within the Jungle Kingdom. However, once you get past the countless nods and references, Matthew Fogel’s script is too light on laughs to keep the story engaging all the way through. By the final act, the playful buzz dissolves into a button-bashing gloop of candy-coloured noise.
Much has been said about the choice of Chris Pratt as Mario due to his naff Italian accent in the trailers. This criticism is swiftly explained away in the opening scenes and he and Charlie Day turn out to be just fine as the titular siblings, though they are a little overshadowed by more recognisable voices in the supporting roles. Taylor-Joy brings a charisma to her portrayal of Princess Peach, befitting of the welcomed subversion of the character’s damsel-in-distress persona, and Jack Black lends his soulful pazazz to Bowser who has a newly found penchant for piano. Best of the bunch is Seth Rogen as Nintendo’s original star Donkey Kong. No stranger to shrooms and he fits right in with this ensemble, swinging into the picture midway through to provide a jolt of energy and, of course, his signature snigger.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie serves as a nostalgia device and amidst the current discourse around which movie-goers certain films are aimed at, it could be argued that this falls into the ‘one of the fans’ category of adaptations. Directors Horvath and Jelenic do a decent job of building the world for the big screen but if they want to have the same joy as its source material, they’ll need to level up for the sequel.