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The Super Mario Brothers Movie

In 1988, I received the best Christmas present of my life. To the envy of many, that fateful morning, I opened a Nintendo entertainment system. Sure, Atari had been fun, but when I popped in “Super Mario Bros” for the first time, a whole new world was laid out before me. Flash forward two years, and I’m using my birthday money to purchase “Super Mario Bros. 3.” That was a true revelation, a game that I had marveled at in the movie THE WIZARD and was downright addicted to once I had it in my little Dorito-dusted fingers. My story is undoubtedly similar to countless others of my generation, and Mario has found a way to remain relevant for nearly four decades. It should have come as no surprise then that THE SUPER MARIO BROTHERS MOVIE instantly became one of the biggest animated films of all time.  

Illumination studios, who already have monster hits like DESPICABLE ME, MINIONS, and THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS bolstering their resume have delivered the first bona-fide smash of 2023 with the thinly plotted tale of Mario (Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day). The wistful handymen have recently ventured out on their own, launching a plumbing company with its very own commercial and jingle. Their first job goes a little haywire, but they know that as long as they are together, everything will work out just fine. 

After Brooklyn is befallen by a cataclysmic plumbing fiasco, the brothers spring into action. They realize that by saving the day, their business would thrive. Once in the bowels of the city, however, they accidentally get sucked into the pipes and transferred to another dimension. Luigi ends up in the Dark Lands, where Bowser (the incomparable Jack Black) rules with merciless fury. Mario, on the other hand, lucks out by landing in the much more welcoming Mushroom Kingdom. Determined to find his brother, he teams up with the spritely Toad (Keegan Michael-Key) who brings him to meet the plucky Princess Peach (Ana Taylor-Joy). Peach has her hands full with Bowser’s impending hostile takeover of her kingdom, and decides that Mario may be able to help her convince the Kong army to help battle Bowser. And, sure, Bowser has every intention of taking over the Mushroom Kingdom (along with the rest of the world,) but he also wants to marry Peach. In fact, his self-written ballad about his beloved princess may very well turn out to be the biggest earworm of the summer. In the 24 hours since I’ve seen the movie, I think I’ve sung the word “peaches” about ten billion times. Thanks, Jack.

SUPER MARIO BROS isn’t exactly a movie so much as a collection of snippets that will appeal to fans of the franchise in a litany of ways. Kids will love the bright colors, battle sequences, and scenes that literally feel as if you are watching someone playing a game.  Adults, if they came with an open mind and aren’t looking for Pixar, will revel in the countless Easter eggs that are hidden throughout. Some of these are overt while others take eagle-eye precision and a penchant for extreme nerdom. In other words, it was right up my alley.  

I suppose it’s a prerequisite that I reference the original live-action SUPER MARIO BROTHERS movie that was released in 1993, but really, it’s impossible to compare the two. Time may heal all wounds, but in the end, that was still a pretty terrible movie. I suppose credit should be given to filmmakers Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel for trying to do something new, but yikes. What a disaster. This incarnation is much more in line with what audiences hoped for. A plucky hero saving his likable brother, while providing a few laughs and some engaging action along the way. It honored the beloved game without trying too hard to rewrite history. In fact, some will (and have) argued that it didn’t try nearly hard enough to inject some originality into the storyline, but it’s difficult to argue with the box office receipts. By the time this article goes to print, it may have very well passed one billion dollars worldwide and is showing no signs of slowing. Not bad for a character that I first fell in love with 35 years ago.


(Now playing in theaters.) 

Brian Miller