I guess Nintendo were fed up with having the original Super Mario Bros. movie mainly used as a punchline for jokes. Or they realised that the current trend of nostalgia-bait was sort of what they'd built their entire brand on, at this point, so why not get involved at the Hollywood level as well? At any rate, the "original" set such a low bar – and the brand/character recognition here is so strong – that as long as the trailer was received well-enough, this was likely to be a moneymaker for the studio.the
So I'm pleasantly surprised by the film that we ended up with! Don't get me wrong, the story is very linear, character depth is definitely set at "wade-able", and they prioritised star power over suitableness in terms of the casting, but it manages to be fairly entertaining, there are no major eye-rolling moments in terms of either fan service or plot holes, and there's even the occasional dash of self-awareness and originality.
Touching on the casting here for a second, that's not just me having a dig at Chris Pratt. I love the man, but he was a bizarre pick for a caricatured Italian-American, and whilst the occasional "Wahoo!", "Mamma Mia!", and "Its'a Me!" all sound pretty decent, his regular "Mario voice" just sounds odd coming out of Mario's face. But he's far from the only one. Luigi is equally strangely cast – which does at least lend consistency to the two brothers – and whilst I can just about get behind Seth Rogen's Donkey Kong, Crankey Kong is bizarre. He sounds like a 30-year-old who doesn't know how to vape, but keeps trying anyway, rather than the usual old-but-wise cough.
On the other hand, Anya Taylor-Joy is a solid Peach (even if her animations are a bit uncanny-valley, and I wish they'd made her head a little less chibi), and both Jack Black as Bowser and Keagan Michael-Key as Toad are perfect! I'm not sure I needed a musically-minded Bowser, but it somehow feels right for the character, and Black obviously suits that role perfectly, whilst Toad just utterly steals the show for me (not like I'm biased, or anything).
As for the plot, I think they blend the real-world backstory and Nintendo-land adventure together well enough. Whilst I'm not a huge fan of the final fight taking place in Brooklyn (why aren't people more weirded out by, well, everything that they just witnessed?) it does close off quite a few plot threads and character arcs – though it is funny that they don't even vaguely try to explain how everyone returns to Nintendo-land, why Mario and Luigi return with them, or what impact this multidimensional discovery might have back in New York 😂 (I do wonder whether a sequel with their cousins, Wario and Waluigi, attempting to capitalise on their discovery in some way might be in the works, though.)
The rest of it is ridiculous, but perfectly fine for a kids film (and very IP friendly), plus it provides a solid backdrop for all of the fan-service and Easter eggs – and boy, are there a lot! To its credit, the film never feels like it's forcing a reference; they do happen fairly naturally. But they're also not subtle about them, and several major plot points are clearly only included as an excuse for more tie-ins (*cough* Mario karts *cough*). Still, the evolution of their platforming was a subtle thread that made me smile: you start with a fixed-camera, faux-2D sequence as they try to make it to their job on time, followed by pipe-mayhem with Toad, before levelling up at Peach's Castle to a more 3D platform (subtle 😉), and finally using the Star powers for free-for-all, total control, hyper-agile stuff at the end.
And speaking of the Star, I liked that classic Super Mario and Mario Kart weapons were just scattered throughout, particularly in the fire-flower grove which was beautifully done – though I will never forgive them for choosing to call it a "raccoon" suit! It's a damn tanuki suit and you know it!
Though I will award points back for the brilliance of the score. Whoever came up with the subtle, constant riffs from classic themes and reinventions deserves a damn raise – that GameCube ringtone: 👩🍳😘. So many of the audio Easter eggs had me grinning, but they all worked well with the current action on screen too. Some were more in your face than others, but I thought they were all great.
Overall, then, I definitely enjoyed myself. There was heaps of nostalgia, some nice surface-level world building, excellent animation, and decent pacing. Would I recast a few people and remodel a few characters? Sure. Is it as good as The Lego Movie? No, not even close. But for a kids animated film, it's better than it needed to be.