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The Super Mario Bros. Movie

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Super Mario Bros. Movie
Photograph: Nintendo; Illumination Entertainment & Universal Pictures

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Candy-coloured fun for greying gamers and fresh-faced wee’uns that does the basics well but not much more

Fizzy fun in the moment but ultimately as hollow as one of its whizzing koopa shells, this console-to-cinema adaptation goes by in a blur of sugary visuals and helter-skelter action. It’ll bring guaranteed joy to younger viewers and leave oldies with a nostalgic itch to pick up an NES controller and start whacking the hell out of the ‘B’ button again. But if you’re not in one of those two demographics, it’s much thinner pickings.
Its hero’s quest storyline sees plucky Brooklyn plumber Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) sucked from the bosom of his bickering, Sopranos-lite family (characterisations come from the Dolmio school of Italian-American culture awareness here), and with his nervy brother Luigi (Charlie Day), get sucked down an unexplained pipe and deposited in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Establishing the connection between the two worlds feels important, especially with visual nods to The Wizard of Oz, where that link is the entire story, to come. But The Super Mario Bros. Movie isn’t about storytelling rigour: the focus is cramming all the sensations of playing the game into a simple quest film, and debut co-directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic prioritise those beats over The Lego Movie-like wit or character development.

And the references come thick and fast (Tanooki suits! Parakoopatroopas! Mario Kart Rainbow Road! A bit where Mario gets whacked by a rotating flame pole!) – as does the action. Luigi has been incarcerated in Bowser’s (Jack Black) dungeon, while the dragon yields his koopa army against the neighbouring Mushroom Kingdom in the hope of making its ruler, Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), his bride. It’s down to Mario to help fight back and rescue his brother.

Like a leaf power-up, it’s a fleeting high

Black’s Bowser provides a fun villain: a kind of angsty cross between Sauron and Meat Loaf, prone to belting out his feelings at the piano in power ballads. He adds some much-needed texture to the bland characterisation. Chris Pratt can’t get much traction on Mario, beyond a neat early joke about how he amps up the Eye-talian for a hamfisted TV commercial for their plumbing business (the promising early Brooklyn scenes borrow liberally from Ghostbusters). 

It’s basic stuff but a starring role for Donkey Kong – armed with Seth Rogen’s dirty chuckle – some and a road trip through some kaleidoscopic Nintendo worlds keeps its 80 succinct minutes zipping by. You’re unlikely to race back for a second go, but the kids will love it. Like a leaf power-up, it’s a fleeting high. 

In cinemas worldwide now.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Michael Jelenic, Aaron Horvath
  • Screenwriter:Matthew Fogel
  • Cast:
    • Charlie Day
    • Seth Rogen
    • Fred Armisen
    • Chris Pratt
    • Anya Taylor-Joy
    • Keegan Michael Key
    • Jack Black
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