Bland writing is a bigger threat than Bowser for Mario
The film is animated by Illumination Entertainment, who are best known for creating the unignorably famous Minions.
Mario is an iconic character created by a company that predates the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Yes, you read that right, Nintendo was founded in the year 1889 while the Ottoman Empire existed up until the year 1922. As mind-blowing as it is, how is that fact relevant to the movie, you might ask. Absolutely nothing, it serves no purpose to the review, albeit amusing you a little. Paradoxically, this irrelevancy kind of elucidates how the film itself is structured. The film is inundated with multiple franchise references, and they certainly are amusing, but they don’t serve much to the story.
But who cares! Our favourite Italian plumber is back, the theatre halls reverberate with the iconic Mario theme, Princess Peach is here, and so is Bowser, along with the castles, and the tunnel portals, our childhood is back! If that’s your attitude then you are going to have a fun time at the theatres. And I say that with no shred of condescension. It is completely fine to sit back and enjoy references but let’s take a look at what else the film has to offer.
As director Guillermo Del Toro took the stage in the recently concluded Oscars, to receive the award for Best Animated Feature for Pinocchio, he felt the need to assert, “Animation is cinema” The level of skill, artistry, and dedication needed to create animation often goes unnoticed and under-appreciated. That is why it feels imperative to do a deep dive into the animation in The Super Mario Bros. Movie before talking anything else about the film.
The film is animated by Illumination Entertainment, who are best known for creating the unignorably famous Minions. While the style of animation is evocative of Pixar, the charm and vivacity of Pixar’s animation are sadly absent but that could also be due to the lacklustre writing that fails to add any soul to these digital puppets. Despite the attempts to imitate Pixar, the visual design still stands out, and holds our attention, especially during the driving sequences in Donkey Kong land and every establishing shot of a new realm. We almost wish the story stayed a bit longer inside the Mushroom Kingdom or the Donkey Kong Land, instead of being about the haphazard adventure that drags us along.
The writing is designed to milk the most out of what it perceives its target audience will like. In a crucial moment, where Mario and the gang need to get a place faster, the ingenious idea they come up with is to ride their Karts. No explanation is given as to why that is better, we just know they picked Karts because it is a reference to the Mario Kart video game. The characters constantly remind us that the sole purpose of their character design is to exploit their cuteness.
There are multiple references to how cute they are, some are funny but it doesn’t take long for these references to reveal themselves as desperate attempts to pander to the audience. There are several instances where the dialogues miss their mark and the humour falls flat but the film does have its moments, like when Bowser sings a melancholic number after the love of his life, Princess Peach, leaves him for Mario.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a testament to the power of animation to infuse life into a story, even when the writing fails to supply any. The film walks, talks, and behaves like a competent animated adventure but it is hard to shake the feeling that beneath the layers of visual splendour, the film is little more than a hasty attempt to milk the most out of a beloved video game franchise. And the makers might have succeeded to a certain extent. Apart from being a barely passable watching experience, it is hard to believe the film will add value to the long-lasting legacy of Mario.
Directors: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
Cast: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charles Martinet, Charlie Day, Jack Black