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Re-VIEW: ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ – Simply a Delight

The Universal Pictures and Illumination hit deftly re-imagines the much-loved game as an entertaining, 90-minute action-packed family spectacle.

Any filmmakers who want to adapt a video game for the big screen face challenges that might seem insurmountable. How do you craft a linear storyline from source material that obeys a different set of narrative rules? How do you re-imagine much-loved original game content without transforming it beyond recognition?

With Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie, directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, and their co-directors Pierre Leduc and Fabien Polack, have achieved the impossible. Together they have crafted an entertaining family spectacle that will please not only fans of Nintendo’s long-running series of Super Mario games, but also anybody ready to enjoy 90 minutes of action-packed escapism.

The script by Matthew Fogel relates the escapades of two brothers, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day), as they are whisked away from their everyday lives as Brooklyn plumbers to help the valiant Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) save the Mushroom Kingdom, one of several fanciful realms that exist in a far-flung corner of the cosmos. Peach’s nemesis is Bowser (Jack Black), whose overriding ambition is to marry the Princess… at all costs. With Mario’s help, Peach forges an alliance with Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) and his son Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), leading to a final confrontation with Bowser and his ruthless Koopa army.

This deceptively straightforward narrative is one the film’s greatest strengths, providing as it does a clean, unambiguous structure capable of supporting all the in-game references a Super Mario uber-fan could desire, without buckling under the weight. The result is a lively adventure that effortlessly follows its own surreal logic, with an affectionate combination of wit and warmth that draws from the Nintendo games and classic movie tropes in equal measure. In a “Rocky”-style montage of platform action and power-ups, Peach teaches Mario how to navigate her strange world. Mario’s one-on-one fight with Donkey Kong has all the hallmarks of a classic gladiatorial smack-down. Scenes of the good guys speeding in their Karts along Rainbow Road jump off the screen like a psychedelic “Mad Max.”

Transferring video game action to the big screen requires a special kind of alchemy – one that The Super Mario Bros. Movie has in abundance. These candy-colored visions are bold, but the artists at Illumination Studios in Paris have crafted them with a remarkable combination of subtlety and vigor. At every turn, the action is beautifully supported by Brian Tyler’s wonderful score, which weaves in original Nintendo themes by Koji Kondo and a plethora of game-era hits including the Beastie Boys’ No Sleep Till Brooklyn, Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out for a Hero and A-ha’s Take on Me.

Dig deeper and you will find themes that follow the same rule of simplicity colored by subtle nuance. Early scenes show Mario and Luigi as part of an extended Italian family living in New York city. Following their dream – a version of the great American dream, of course – the brothers have just launched a commercial promoting their new plumbing business, in which they assert: “That’s why the Super Mario brothers are here, to save Brooklyn.”

The ersatz Italian accents they adopt for the commercial honor the original video game voice talent, but bear no resemblance to their normal speaking voices. Furthermore, Mario is shown to have low self-esteem, driven in part by his father’s constant criticism – why did he leave a steady job, and why is he dragging his brother down with him? The father-son tension is neatly resolved at the end of the film when, having finally defeated Bowser, Mario is told by his father: “You are amazing.”

Meanwhile, Jack Black achieves another kind of impossible by transforming Bowser from what might have been a conventional evil megalomaniac into a tortured romantic with real dimension to his character. A scene where he pours out his heart in song, while accompanying himself on the piano, is an uproariously funny take on Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, made all the more amusing by Kevin Michael Richardson’s voice performance as Bowser’s sorcerer sidekick, Kamek, in which he appears to be channeling Peter Lorre.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie may sound like a recipe for a simple summer flick, but as Steve Jobs famously said, simple is harder than complex. Given all the ingredients in the mixing bowl, a lesser group of filmmakers might have produced a movie that lacked flavor. What Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic have created with their immensely talented team is precisely the opposite. It is simply a delight.


Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez is the CEO and executive director of VIEW Conference, Italy’s premiere annual digital media conference. She holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University and a BA from the University of California Santa Cruz. VIEW Conference is committed to bringing a diversity of voices to the forefront in animation, visual effects, and games. For more information about the VIEW Conference, visit the official website:

Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez's picture
Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez is the CEO and executive director of VIEW Conference, Italy’s premiere annual digital media conference: