The 1993 movie “Super Mario Bros.” is the worst film ever made. It’s indescribably bad, baffling at every turn, banishing everyone’s favorite Italian-American plumbers to a disgusting, live-action, fungus-infected New York City. The 2023 “The Super Mario Bros Movie” is seemingly the polar opposite of its older counterpart. Instead of a grimy, dystopian New York, the modern film portrays a welcoming and bright Mushroom Kingdom. Instead of huge globs of horrible fungus, there are cute cartoon mushrooms voiced by Keegan-Michael Key.
The internet erupted last year when the decidedly normal-sounding Chris Pratt was revealed to be voicing the titular heavily-accented plumber. And as expected, his voice acting is mediocre. In some lines, he attempts a hint of an accent, but in others he just uses his normal tone. It’s far from intolerable, but it feels far more like he was cast to put his name on the poster, rather than because he really fit the role. This is true with pretty much every performance in the movie comes off. They’re fine, maybe even good, but they’re not working with a lot, and they probably weren’t the best choice.
The story is barebones, though that’s to be expected. Mario characters aren’t really characters. Rather, they’re a collection of tropes and visual signifiers. It’s pretty much the same in the movie. Sure, characters talk, but no one has anything even remotely interesting going on. You wouldn’t know the movie is directed by the creators of “Teen Titans GO!” — the jokes in this movie aren’t nearly as funny or even as frequent. The plot is a means to an end, just an excuse to explore the sprawling Mushroom Kingdom. This is essentially the same as the games. The focus is put on exploration, not on story. But the difference is that when you’re playing a game, it’s dependent on your input. In a movie, you passively watch the flashing colors and nice landscapes.
Within the vibrantl lands of the Mushroom Kingdom are many references to the Mario video games. References might be as simple as something like a restaurant called “Chasse au Canard”, with a picture of a duck as its logo (a nod to the game “Duck Hunt”, which came packaged with the original “Super Mario Bros.”). Or, a turtle with a blue shell yelling, “Blue shell!” as he blows up Donkey Kong’s go kart. The problem for viewers unfamiliar with the Mario franchise is not that moments such as the latter don’t make sense (it’s a world where blocks float in the air — who cares about anything making sense?) it’s that they’re utterly meaningless. Much of the enjoyment of the movie is reliant on the audience pointing at the screen and saying to the person beside them, “I know that!”
Unlike the 1993 film, the 2023 Mario movie is reverent of the video games it’s adapting. Only, the references made are superficial.
At times, the camera even mimics the 2D side-scrolling angle of retro Mario titles. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is exactly what you think it is. Aptly enjoyable and inoffensive, made for children first and Mario fans second. While the movie’s greatest appeal is its emulation of source material, it doesn’t quite capture the same magic.