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Review: ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is filled with animated movie cliches but is strengthened by beautiful animation and lively voice acting.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” a light-hearted and cute film, does little to challenge the status-quo of animated children’s movies.

The latest feature from Illumination, the animation studio known for the “Despicable Me” franchise among other hits, will certainly keep younger audiences entertained. It might function well as light fare for nostalgic older Mario fans as well. The movie was released on April 5.

The film’s release marks the Mario brothers’ return to theaters for the first time since 1993’s critically panned live action “Super Mario Bros.” Because the live action flop was the only time a major studio took on a Mario movie, it did not set a great precedent for any theatrical adaptations of the popular video game franchise.

The 92-minute film has a very straight-forward plot: Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) get separated. Mario, along with Peach (Anya-Taylor Joy) and Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), have to go rescue Luigi from Bowser’s lair.

Straight-forward plots have become typical of Illumination’s films, but for a roughly 90-minute movie, the simplicity works and does not overstay its welcome. It earns a couple extra points for Luigi taking Peach’s place as the stereotypical damsel in distress.

The film introduces Mario and Luigi as entrepreneurial plumbers trying to grow their plumbing business in New York City. Once a major plumbing malfunction causes chaos in Brooklyn, the brothers try to make a name for themselves by saving Brooklyn, but instead they get sucked into a pipe that leads to the Mushroom Kingdom.

The announcement of Chris Pratt as the voice of Mario spurred plenty of half-joking criticism online. No Italian actors were cast in the movie, which sparked some faux-outrage, but it’s Pratt’s affiliation with homophobic megachurch Hillsong that truly rubbed some the wrong way.

Ultimately, Pratt does a fine job in the movie. Nothing about his voicework is necessarily outstanding, but, at the same time, nothing about it is egregious either. He only does the Italian accent for the titular brothers’ plumbing commercial early into the film.

The various supporting characters’ voice acting works as some of the strongest parts of the film.

Jack Black brought Bowser to life, especially in a couple of funny piano ballads. Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, Key as Toad and Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong also brought ample doses of charisma.

Like most big-budget kids films, the soundtrack consisted of famous songs — in this case, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by Beastie Boys, “Take on Me” by A-ha and even “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” by Tomoyasu Hotei (the iconic song from “Kill Bill”). These great songs that probably required a Universal Pictures-sized budget to clear will hopefully stick out for the older millennial parents who take their kids to see this in theaters.

The color palette used in the design of the Mushroom Kingdom (and the multitude of Toads that reside in it) makes for a vibrant spectacle of color for much of the film.

The brightness helps accentuate the cute and well-done animation. Perhaps that’s why, despite bouncing off the walls with easy clichés and tired kids movie tropes, “Super Mario Bros.” feels enjoyable enough.

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