If you grew up in the 80s, 90s or pretty much any time since, it’s likely you’re aware of Nintendo‘s mustachioed mascot. The short sequence of notes that open composer Koji Kondo‘s original Super Mario Bros. theme evokes a giant tapestry of Mario and his universe. Starring in video games, a live action movie and even an animated series; Mario jumps, stomps and spins his way through countless backdrops.
When it comes to The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023), it pretty much does what it says on the tin. Written by Matthew Fogel and directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, Mario and his brother Luigi are plumbers living in Brooklyn, whose lives change drastically when they are dragged into a Warp Pipe. They are separated during the journey; Luigi ending up in a sticky situation, and Mario arriving in the Mushroom Kingdom. As usual, ruler of the kingdom Princess Peach is in danger from the tyrannical Bowser. This forms the central conflict of the movie.
While The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t necessarily break the mold, I did appreciate some of the choices that the creative team makes. It takes story inspiration from Super Mario Odyssey, a game in which Bowser also wants to marry Princess Peach. This adds a more comedic element to the character alongside his menace. Jack Black is a great voice acting choice, especially when it comes to his musical performance. Who knew Bowser could give Elton John a run for his money?
Peach herself also has a lot more agency in this movie. Gone is the damsel in distress, waiting for Mario to come and rescue her. One of my highlights of the movie involves Peach channelling her inner Elsa. She uses an Ice Flower power-up to give Bowser some hell, and it’s fun to see her in action. She also serves as a trainer for Mario, putting him through his paces on a sort of assault course.
This time around, the incapacitated victim role falls to Luigi. While he plays more of an active role in the opening and finale, unfortunately, he waits locked in a cage for a good chunk of the movie. Given that they named it The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and not The Mario Movie, this is pretty much my only gripe. It could also be because I’m an unapologetic Luigi fan. His side hustle outings in Luigi’s Mansion as this franchise’s answer to Yvette Fielding but with anxiety and a trusty vacuum are among my favourite Nintendo games. I really like the nod to these when Luigi first arrives in the spooky woods.
If like me, you have spent many hours playing Mario-related games from the SNES to the Switch, then you’re going to enjoy the easter eggs in this movie. I initially found the inclusion of Donkey Kong surprising, but given his close link to Mario’s first appearance, it makes sense. The Rainbow Road scene is also a fun action sequence. If you have to get from A to B, why not fit in a reference to one of the most popular spin-offs from the series?
What I really love among the references are the musical cues. My inner nerd enjoys the inclusion of the Super Mario Bros. 3 theme when Mario uses the Tanooki Suit. It takes me back to my childhood instantly. Another welcome inclusion is the melody from Super Mario 64 when we see Peach’s Castle in the Mushroom Kingdom. Chef’s kiss.
So is it worth a watch? If you’re a fan of the franchise, then absolutely. It’s nostalgic, has our hero doing his thing (with the added pressure of living up to family expectations) and makes you want to replay the games. In a sequel, I would love to see the creative team branch out more like Super Mario Galaxy in terms of setting, or even give us more of Yoshi than a brief cameo. If you’re a newcomer, then strap in for a colourful ride through the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond. While the story is rather straightforward, there’s nothing wrong with a classic hero vs villain showdown. Wahoo!