The Rise of the Mushroom Kingdom: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) - Reviewed

Photos courtesy of Universal

When the live-action Super Mario Bros. movie came out in 1993 (I was twelve), I remember being excited to see it but feeling highly disappointed when I walked out of the theater. It was almost nothing like the games I adored. As an adult, I appreciate this film for how campy and bizarre it is, taking the source material and transplanting it into an edgy cyberpunk aesthetic. That being said, I hoped the newest attempt at a Super Mario Bros. movie would be more faithful to the source material. Produced by Illumination, Universal Pictures, and Nintendo, this had some big bucks and players behind it. Thankfully, this new adaption is excellent and captures the fun and whimsy that Nintendo is known for.

The story follows Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day), two brothers trying to get their struggling plumber business off the ground in Brooklyn. There is a catastrophic flood in the middle of the city, and when the bros investigate the issue, they are sucked into a warp pipe and end up in the colorful and magical Mushroom Kingdom. Mario and Luigi get separated during the warping process, and on top of that, the Mushroom Kingdom is being invaded by Bowser (Jack Black), a giant fire-breathing turtle who will stop at nothing to take over the entire world. Now Mario has to find his brother and help Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, defeat Bowser.

The Mario games have never had deep narratives (outside of Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG), and often the only lore available was a paragraph in the instruction manual. In comparison to that, the story here is quite fleshed out, but if you compare it to other contemporary animated films, it feels sparse. The pacing is also breakneck, and the movie runtime is just over an hour and a half, so there is little time to spend on character development. It's clear the writers depended on the audience to fill in some of the blanks with their familiarity with the source material. While it doesn't ultimately ruin the film, it could have used a little extra room to breathe.

Aesthetically, Super Mario Bros. is gorgeous, and it's exhilarating to see the Mushroom Kingdom rendered in all its surreal glory. There are visual references everywhere, from almost every single mainline Mario game and Easter Eggs all over the place. One fun little connection is that although Nintendo does exist in this universe (Mario is seen playing an NES), instead of Mario games, they have Jumpman, an early name for Mario's character back in the Donkey Kong arcade days. This attention to detail is all over every design aspect, and it's nice to see the directors and writers respect the source material.

There was a lot of internet chatter about Chris Pratt doing the voice of Mario and the lack of the accent, but it sounds natural and not as flat as it sounded in the trailers. The original voice of Mario, Charles Martinet, plays a different character, and it's nice to see he was included because his Mario performance is truly iconic. Jack Black as Bowser is inspired casting, and he hams it up at every opportunity. It's apparent Black had an absolute blast, and he even gets to use his singing pipes once or twice. The soundtrack, in general, is excellent, mixing Koji Kondo's melodies with new material from Brian Tyler.

Overall, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a light affair that doesn't add much to the established Mario canon but is a delightful low-stakes film that adults and children alike can enjoy.

--Michelle Kisner