Bringing the world’s most recognizable video-game characters back to the big screen is an intimidating task, especially when the failure of their last cine-venture still looms large. But Illumination and Nintendo's big animated gamble The Super Mario Bros. Movie mostly sticks the landing. A fun, fast-paced take on the plumber siblings, it’s a far cry from 1993’s much-derided live-action Super Mario Bros.
Wisely sidestepping potential accent issues, Mario (Chris Pratt, aiming to prove sceptics wrong) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are ordinary Brooklyn plumbers down on their luck. When opportunity comes knocking in the form of a burst water main, they seize the chance to become heroes. Naturally, things don’t go quite to plan and they’re split up and spat out by a magical pipe into a mysterious kingdom.
Mario sets off to save Luigi from the clutches of the all-singing Bowser (Jack Black on School of Rock musical form), encountering plenty of familiar faces along the way. Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) brings some welcome humor, but it’s really Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) who steals the show. Thanks to a clever subversion of the game’s damsel-in-distress trope, she brings a fresh, exciting perspective to this origin story.
If that all sounds a bit non-canon, die-hard fans needn’t panic. There’s plenty of ‘yahoos’ and ‘let’s-a goes’ embedded in the film’s meticulously detailed world-building. Every frame is stacked with cameos and references to wider Mario lore too, including a particularly elegant classic gameplay sequence that’ll give you a nostalgia rush.
It’s just a shame that the svelte 92-minute runtime means we don’t get much time to linger in this vibrant setting. The story races through locations, character introductions and story threads so quickly that when the final act nears, you can’t help but wish directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic had gently nudged the brakes.
There are casualties along the way – Seth Rogen’s Donkey Kong doesn’t get much of a look-in – but it’s the Mario and Luigi relationship that really suffers. And given how much of the later plot hinges on it, this underdevelopment means one particular pay-off doesn’t hit the required emotional beats.
Horvath and Jelenic do a lot to rewrite Mario’s on-screen legacy, but TSMBM ultimately doesn’t match the lofty genius of Shigeru Miyamoto’s beloved games. Although with all signs pointing to a sequel, there’s plenty of Rainbow Road left for the characters to explore.