What does a video game adaptation of Nintendo's flagship icon look like 30 years later after the critical and commercial failure of 1993's Super Mario Bros? The answer is it looks better, has more direct influence from the source games, and lacks anything as distinct as Dennis Hopper's performance as King Koopa. What The Super Mario Bros. Movie achieves is a stunningly animated chance to roam about this world. What it doesn't do is craft a plot or jokes with any wit or originality. Still, as someone who has grown up with Mario, I did find things to enjoy here.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is devoted to the Nintendo brand. The look, feel, environment designs, music, sound effects, and several gameplay elements from the video games are all here. At times, the film can feel like a cutscene from the new Mario game. That is how faithful it is to the source material. While the games are a blast to play and puzzle through their platforming levels, the film struggles to deepen the world of Mario. The plot is pretty standard here. Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) get sucked into a pipe, transporting them to another dimension. There they learn about Bowser (Jack Black) and his plan to destroy the Mushroom Kingdom unless Princess Peach (Ana Taylor Joy) marries him. This love story is a frequent element of the games. Soon, Mario is teaming up with Peach to rescue Luigi and stop Bowser. And that is about it for plot.
One of the bummers about the film is how few actual jokes there are here. For all the love that went into the look of the film, it seems like very little went into the screenplay. Thank goodness then for the action scenes that cleverly incorporate the many iterations of Mario gameplay into them. From 2-D side-scrolling to Mario Kart, the film's action scenes are love letters to the fans. The voice performances are a mixed bag. Pratt, who was so good in The LEGO Movies, brings little personality to Mario. Jack Black does the best job here, incorporating his musical talents and humor more than once to bring the few laughs the film has. I also enjoyed Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong. Even if he makes no attempt to sound like the character, he still brings energy to his vocal performance. When The Super Mario Bros. Movie is in action mode, it works. As a kid of the 80s, I appreciated how much of the gameplay from the video games show up in these sequences. A big set piece on Rainbow Road is particularly striking. While the story lacks and the humor is absent, the visual design is a constant delight. Older "kids" who have grown up playing these games will appreciate plenty here, even if there isn't a reason to ever play it again.