I vividly remember the first time I played a Mario game. It was on a friend’s pirate console that had ‘Super Mario All-Stars’ on loop. With about ten years just turned and after three hours of play I saw the world in blocks, jumps and pipes. I had never seen, heard or played anything like it: Koji Kondo’s music was the perfect 8-bit tune, the platforming was sized to be accessible yet complex, the character managed to be iconic only with four colors. I was whistling the main tune for weeks.
As a kid, I didn’t understand any of this yet, just that I had found something to hold on to and keep playing endlessly. Almost three decades later, every time I pick up a new game in the series I feel the same childish fascination: Super Mario is much more than just a game. It is a pop icon, fun par excellence, the sublimation of Nintendo. When it was announced that Illumination would be taking over their first film in thirty years, we all had a mix of anticipation and terror. Because it could go very well, but… What if it went wrong?
Let’s take this weight off our shoulders collectively: ‘Super Mario Bros: The Movie’ is everything Mario fans have ever dreamed of seeing on a screeneven if that means putting aside everyone who has never touched a game in the series. Everything is here. The blocks, the powers, the coins, the impossible platforms, Kondo’s music, Bowser with the usual intentions for Princess Peach.
If there is something that, in fact, can be blamed on this adaptation, it is that he is too faithful and fears taking too many risks. But honestly, you don’t need to take risks. Before we get to that, we deserve to see a proper canonical movie of the saga. and in Illumination have taken a risk by introducing the world of ‘Donkey Kong Country’ and ‘Mario Kart’, who quickly manage to overcome the feeling of forced addition, turning Mario and Donkey into a couple of hilarious forced friends. Go-karting, to be honest, doesn’t make any plot sense, but it’s so fun and spectacular that it just demands the more logical side of your head to let go.
All of this is, of course, if you’ve ever played a game in the franchise. If by age, desire or appetite you have never known the Mushroom Kingdom, you are facing ninety minutes of absolute disbelief while all kinds of inconsistencies are happening on the screen, only suitable for those who know the internal codes. If you know, from seeing the fire flower, the ice flower, or the different colored mushrooms, what they are capable of, you can be lulled by the footage, but seeing it from a novice perspective has to be akin to watching a film in Russian without subtitles. ‘Super Mario Bros: The Movie’ is a gift for the fans and a punishment for the rest of the public.
I don’t know if there is anyone hoping that this particular movie does not have humor or focuses on a dark side of Mario (from what we have seen, it may be), but not even in the most epic moments do they skimp on jokes. The best? They are almost always very funny, knowing how to exploit the possibilities of the saga very well and subverting our knowledge of it. She is tremendously resourceful within her self-inflicted constraint.and is always capable of, at least, never making us smile.
It is true, as a colleague commented to me when leaving the cinema, that it is easy to get overwhelmed with so many references: there’s practically nothing about this adaptation that feels unique. All the designs, relationships between characters and inventions come directly from the game, with a Nintendo measuring all its projects with a rule after the previous catastrophic audiovisual attempts. Whether it’s an orchestrated music, a sound effect or a more or less veiled reference to ‘Punch-out!’, ‘Wrecking crew’, ‘Donkey Kong’ or ‘Kid Icarus’, the tape has no interest in surprising or proposing anything new. No need to do (for now).
You choose if this is a problem for you or, on the contrary, you are grateful for the seriousness with which Nintendo and Illumination have taken a game that seemed unadaptable without specifically taking the plot of a particular title, but rather taking common places from all of them and delving very slightly into the personalities of the characters, among which stands out a Bowser who eats every minute in which he appears and an absolutely captivating Peach. A character, by the way. a far cry from the damsel in distress of the early games but with a story prepared for all those who are already prepared to complain about their strength.
Let’s go with the elephant in the room: the actors of the film (I can’t comment on the dubbing, only on the original version). There has been a lot of talk about how Chris Pratt has barely modulated his voice to be Mario, but it’s a bad thing that, beyond the fabulous Jack Black (the best possible Bowser in every way), it happens throughout the film: Charlie Day, Anna Taylor-Joy or, especially, Seth Rogen, do nothing special with their voices beyond being themselves. It doesn’t matter too much, really, but it must be recognized that the beatings that were given to the protagonist of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ were a bit unfair and the film would have been less enjoyable if we had to continually listen to the reedy voice of Charles Martinet’s Mario (who has a couple of great movie roles, by the way).
It is true that several key pieces of the iconography of the Mario universe are missingbut it is clear that this is just the beginning of a franchise that will most likely lead us to get to know the Kongs better (watch out for that hilarious Diddy cameo) before expanding into an authentic Nintendo-verse which, done right, may well be the new key IP for Hollywood. If it has been possible to do well ‘Super Mario Bros’. What’s stopping us from Illumination taking over Kirby? What about a live action Zelda movie? Did someone say an ‘F-zero’ anime? After the undoubted success of this film, it is only a matter of time.
‘Super Mario Bros: The Movie’ is pure magic for fans, but it runs the risk of being just for us, completely ignoring those who have never been close to the saga and refusing to explain anything to them about what is happening. But these are minor complaints next to this colossal work: a happy place from which it is inevitable to leave with a smile and with your head thinking about going back in between pipes, mushrooms, blocks and evil turtles, enjoying every little detail. My mom!
In Espinof | Finding a boyfriend for Princess Peach: you can find the first ‘Super Mario Bros’ anime for free on YouTube and it’s as bizarre as you imagine