Apart from Mickey Mouse, I can’t think of any one animated icon more beloved than Mario. True, Sonic the Hedgehog is easily as recognizable, but not nearly as universally acclaimed (don’t see also: Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Secret Rings and the coup de crap, Sonic the Hedgehog ) — that being said, it shocked and worried the gaming world (and myself) when Nintendo partnered with Illumination Studios, the studio responsible for the Despicable Me franchise, The Secret Life of Pets, Dr, Seuss adaptations The Lorax and The Grinch plus other 90-minute 3D fart jokes, to make the first legitimate Super Mario Bros. film adaptation… but what we have released in cinemas today is nothing but brilliant! If you don’t know the story, particularly if you haven’t played the games, fear not — like this year’s other video-game inspired movie, Tetris (not the same kind of movie, I know), you needn’t consult Wikipedia. You can jump in (heh-heh) to this flick and have a jolly good time. For the die-hards, you will have an equally, if not moreso, excellent time catching all the references to Mario games and other Nintendo IPs past and present!
A lot of fan-rage in the movie’s formative stage was devoted to the hiring of a (principally) celebrity voice cast in the lead roles; frankly, I think the IP is strong enough not to need one, but rest assured, the hiring of Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3) to voice the iconic red-suited plumber was not one done in cruelty to the film. Pratt brings humility and strength to Mario while still keeping the charm and brightness that original voice actor Charles Martinet has brought to the character since 1996 (do keep an ear out for Martinet’s not one, but two cameos!). Charlie Day (Pacific Rim) works exceptionally well as Luigi, charmingly cowardly and packed with quality slapstick gags! Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit) is great as Princess Peach, with her voice suggesting the best of classic animated princesses, yet strengthened without going totally snarkysnob. Keegan-Michael Key (Schmigadoon!) is totally adorable as Toad, erstwhile protector of Her Highness (and I still don’t believe his voice in the role was natural!), but the real linchpin in this movie is Jack Black (School of Rock) as Bowser, the big, bad, king of the villainous Koopas! He (briefly) brings his musical prowess (…or Bowsess? Nah.) to the film in a hilarious way and, on the whole, almost steals the show, and if the Annie Awards still honor voice actors, he’s got it in the bag!
All this being said, the real brilliance in this movie is how Nintendo has changed Illumination from being a studio whose movies were only good for plopping your children aged 1 to 8 in front of to being a legit animation studio — there’s not even a single rude joke in it; I never thought the day would come! To honor the IP while still crafting a movie for general audiences is a daunting task, to be sure, but this is in the class of the best of Disney and Pixar circa 2010 and prior. This is the kind of movie that, like The LEGO Movie, is doubtless going to be snuffed for Oscars, but in the minds of the public, will be beloved, to say nothing of filling the coffers of Universal and Nintendo and sparking further adventures in and beyond the Mushroom Kingdom! As an aspiring writer and editor, the best thing I can say (along with every other creative/financial mind in the business) is “my hat is off to you,” and as a moviegoer, I can give it nothing less than my highest recommendation!