Written by on January 17, 2024

Toys and video games became the inspiration for Saturday morning and after school cartoons pretty heavily in the 1980s. Movies based on toys have been going on since the 90s. Movies based on video games have been made for close to that amount of time. All have had different levels of “success”, but most have been failures. Why? Usually because the movies writers and directors try too hard to make it something it’s not and ruin it for the fans of the original product. If the “fanboys” don’t like what is made it can quickly kill the project before it hits theaters so that the casual fans don’t even want to check it out. So, Hollywood sinks their own ship by making live action versions with wacky concepts that don’t carry into the real world. The shining example of this has always been “Super Mario Bros.” that came out in 1993. The general video game story line was there, but it was clumsily carried out and poor special effects made it laughable. One video game movie that got some good traction was “Mortal Kombat”. It wasn’t Oscar worthy, but it did well enough for a sequel. The second movie quickly became the new benchmark for one of the worst movies ever made and is the butt of several online jokes. In 2023 Hollywood took a page from recent successful toy movies and put “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” where it belonged: in the computer generated world it already exists in.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” still carries the main characters that people have known for decades of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, and the evil Bowser. Mario and Luigi get accidentally transported to the magical Mushroom Kingdom where they have to help rescue the princess and defeat Bowser. Same story line as the game and most of it’s sequels. Famous voices are abundant in this movie with Chris Pratt (Mario), Anna Taylor-Joy (Princess Peach), Charlie Day (Luigi), Keegan-Michael Key (Toad), and Jack Black (Bowser). There are other recognizable voices scattered in there along with long time voice over actors as a nod to their accomplishments in and around both video game and the TV industry. Mario and Luigi are just starting out on their own plumbing business and they see a catastrophic emergency as way to gain clout if they fix it. That’s how they find the secret sewer passageway that sucks them into the Mushroom Kingdom. Separated during their magical transportation they must not only find ways to get back together but help the people of the land defend themselves from Bowser and his army of Koopas. They learn how they can “power up” in this new world to give themselves special powers to help in their fight and also find some personal growth along the way.

First, we’re talking about a virtual dynasty of a video game franchise. Moms and Dads have known Mario since he was in Donkey Kong, where he was simply known as “Jumpman” and the first arcade version of Mario Bros. as a video game where the two plumber brothers knocked over turtles, crabs, and other creatures in the sewer. When Super Mario Bros. hit the arcades and the Nintendo Entertainment System people fell in love with the characters and the fun game play. It has spawned several versions of games with these characters and is the mascot of the entire brand. If there’s a new Nintendo system then one of the first games WILL be a Mario game. You have to be careful with a legacy like this. While there was some people upset with who was voicing certain characters their concerns were quickly dashed. All of them pretty much nail their character and bring depth without ever appearing on screen. Even someone whose not a fan knows these characters and voices as they are a big part of pop culture now. The movie moves at a good pace and is watchable as an adult or a kid. Mom and Dad will love every Easter Egg that references past games and characters and gives a nod to where this all came from. Kids will like it for the current references it makes, but also because the game is such a classic they still play it to this day and they can connect with their parents as well. The smartest thing they did was to not make it live action. They kept it in it’s cartoonish video game form so that whatever happens is suspended in its belief. They leave almost no reference to any of the other game sequels or spin-offs left out. The sequels, Mario Cart, Super Smash Brothers, Donkey Kong games are all referenced without them being shoved in without purpose. They even use the theme song from the 90s cartoon as a commercial jingle. The best part is that they’re all fun as well as wink-and-nod. While the plot is familiar so kids can get a conclusion that they understand they get there is a way that doesn’t completely condescend or patronize the viewers. The visuals are stunningly bright and fluid and scenes can have a darkness rarely captured on film. The video game as a movie curse will not be found here. Put this on your watch list from Amazon Prime or Netflix and watch it as a fan or with your kids. If you’re old enough it feels just like you’re sitting in one of your friend’s basements huddled around the NES waiting for your turn to storm the castle and maybe save the Princess yourself.

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