It’s hard not to feel a jolt of glee when Koji Kondo’s original Mario themes kick in, bombastically reimagined by Brian Tyler for this insane score, and it immediately made me feel like a kid again. There are quibbles with Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie but as a piece of IP farmed for profit it’s a rousing success.
I’m rarely a fan of nostalgic button-pushing, instead longing for something that feels like it isn’t embarrassed about what it is while still attempting to pander to me. Marvel’s recent string of self-conscious hits openly feel confused and lifeless (if still fun in some ways) as they continue to dominate popular culture. The flip side of that coin is a series of throwback films like this; movies still mining IP for profit while managing to care about what they are.
Thus we get to The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a candy-coated film capable of giving you diabetes that doesn’t slow down long enough for you to care about how much sense it makes. I’ve been playing Mario games since I was old enough to hold a controller and am trained to never question the story, merely having a blast instead. This latest big-screen attempt at adaptation takes a stab at molding that sensation onto a star-studded cast and largely succeeds due to its shameless joy. Why does Bowser (Jack Black) want to marry Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy)? Because that’s what Bowser does and he’s right to do so.
A couple of down-on-their-luck small business owners, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) skirt right up to the edge of depressing the audience before thankfully being transported to the Mushroom Kingdom by a sewer pipe in Brooklyn. This intro is all too familiar and sets a depressing tone but the quick move recalls Dorothy waking up in Oz, the greys and browns replaced by brightness and movement in a way that simply has to feel animated. Illumination, the company behind your kid’s favorite yellow buggers that speak in garbled nonsense factory-made to entertain a child, has applied its kid-friendly approach here without letting anything slow down long enough for a parent (or a 34-year-old dork on a double date) to get bored or irritated. Kameks and Koopas, Goombas and Toads, everything is fun and bright and silly without ever feeling obnoxious.
I genuinely didn’t think this would be SO heavy on nods to fan engagement but the appearance of characters like Kranky Kong (Fred Armisen), Diddy Kong, and even a nihilistically suicidal Lumalee (Juliet Jelenic) bring life to this already vibrant world. Chris Pratt is thankfully less painful than advertised, almost as if that were by design, but the rest of the cast is an absolute triumph. Jack Black is having the time of his life for what I’m sure was only two days of work, Bowsering his brains out and at one point utilizing the character to create a Tenacious D B-Side ballad about a turtle in love with a princess. None of those words belong in the same sentence together but the result is so much fun it’s hard to care.
Yoda told Luke that if he entered the weird Dark-Side cave it would only contain what he took with him. That is, in a sense, what you’re going to get from The Super Mario Bros. Movie. I took in my love of that franchise and was greeted with exactly what I wanted. Others may take their annoyance at IP-farming, at Chris Pratt (and there’s plenty to be annoyed with there), or at anything that isn’t grim and violent (looking at you, Snyder-heads) and will walk out unhappy. The 10-year-old still buried under all of my cynicism walked out overjoyed and the animation-loving adult walked out grinning ear-to-ear. Most of you will have the same reaction and I hope you all get out and see this silly thing. We could all use a jolt of sugar like this once in a while, a cinematic pick-me-up that’ll get you through the next week or so.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is currently in theatres.