The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic
Written by Matthew Fogel
Featuring the voices of Chris Pratt, Charlie Day and Jack Black
Classification PG; 92 minutes
Opens in theatres April 7
The internet was right. Chris Pratt is all wrong as the title character in The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
You might remember Pratt’s casting announcement causing a stir. Many internet users expressed their disappointment that he’s not Italian and sounds nothing like Mario, and if he did sound like Mario, with that cartoonish Italian accent, hoo-boy.
The problem here isn’t that Pratt can’t emulate the helium-pitched “it’s-a me” and “let’s-a go” catchphrases, which Charles Martinet made iconic in the video games. It’s that Pratt takes a very distinct character – a short mustachioed plumber in overalls who kicks around turtle shells is anything but average – and gives yet another bland and deflating stock-in-trade performance, which we’re familiar with from multiple Guardians of the Galaxy and Lego movies.
Bland and deflating is pretty much the vibe of this whole adaptation. The Super Mario Bros. Movie functionally and dutifully strings together scenes from the games into a basic and coherent narrative, while counting on fans to sit in the candy-coloured landscape and gleefully point out the Easter eggs and iconography they recognize from such games as Yoshi’s Island, Cascade Kingdom and Mario Kart.
This is a Super Mario movie merely built to satisfy those kids who consume GameTubers like PrestonPlayz or Markiplier. I mean, if you spend your days backseat watching obnoxious sounding man-children play video games, listening to Pratt as Mario should be right up your alley.
Mario is introduced alongside Charlie Day’s Luigi in a very ‘80s television ad announcing their new startup: the Super Mario Bros. plumbers. They are little guys from Brooklyn, trying to make a name for themselves in the big city. The movie doesn’t wait too long to let Mario give fans a nostalgic taste of his game play. When the brothers’ van breaks down on their way to a job in the Dumbo district, Mario sprints through a construction site. He parkours through scaffolding, as he does in the game, which came packed-in with our Nintendo Entertainment Systems.
The scant plot kicks in when a water main burst in Brooklyn inspires Mario to investigate New York’s sewer system, which is a nice nod to the setting of the original 1983 Mario Bros. arcade game. That’s where Mario and Luigi get sucked in by the iconic green warp pipes, which here have an interdimensional wormhole quality to them. The former is sent to Mushroom Kingdom, reigned over by Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), while the latter lands in Bowser (Jack Black) territory, just as the fire-breathing oversized horned turtle (or King Koopa) plots a takeover.
This is familiar stuff from the games, though with a meticulous facelift from an animation department that went above and beyond. Just the New York sewer scenes stand out; the pipes and valves are intricately detailed with rust, moisture and grime. The look is very tactile. But the story telling stays 8-bit.
This Mario adventure is put together by directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (of Teen Titans Go! fame) and writer Matthew Fogel (whose resume lists the sequels to Minions and Big Momma’s House), who largely resort to the kind of quips and gags that are Minions- and Madagascar-approved.
The problem is that they impatiently forego character building, like game players using warp pipes to skip levels. The animation has more character than the characters. Only Bowser and Donkey Kong leave an impression, because the guys voicing them (Black and an easily recognizable Seth Rogen, respectively) can do a lot with a little.
I wonder whether the filmmakers were too timid to draw outside the lines with this copyright protected material, lest they end up with something like the disastrous live-action 1993 movie, Super Mario Bros., where Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo donned overalls in a steampunk-setting, and Dennis Hopper went full Colonel Kurtz as Bowser. At least that movie had gonzo personality, which frankly, the Super Mario material demands.
But this team keeps missing, even when swinging at those low-hanging mystery blocks. They have a Mario Kart scene that could have, should have but doesn’t bring the diesel-fueled Mad Max: Fury Road energy. And they refuse to learn from the delightful Trolls movie and tap into this world’s psychedelic vibe.
This is a franchise about working class dudes eating magic mushrooms and flowers that make them big or small and give them the ability to shoot fire balls from their palms: All perfect fodder to be a stoner flick that would have had us squealing “woo-hoo.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
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