I got a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas in 1986 and that was my first introduction to Mario and his brother Luigi.
From what I was able to piece together, Mario was a plumber who liked to jump, eat mushrooms and attempt to save a princess named Peach from a turtle/dragon named Bowser – that is, of course, when she wasn’t in another castle.
In the subsequent four decades, I have played probably hundreds of hours of video games featuring Mario and his ever expanding cast of enemies and allies, watched as he became a corporate mascot for Nintendo almost as universally recognizable as Mickey Mouse, and still have to admit I don’t know much more about the guy than I did way back in the 80s.
That’s why making “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is more challenging than it looks. Mario’s power as a video game character is that he is recognizable but is lacking any personality characteristics whatsoever, so that he becomes the perfect virtual stand-in for any player that grabs the controller. There’s just not much to work with.
So Nintendo gave the keys to Illumination, the animation studio behind the “Despicable Me” franchise, with the task of bringing Mario to the big screen without screwing it up.
The result is a very competently made, if unremarkable, piece of family entertainment that almost glistens with the sheen of corporate flop sweat.
What we do learn is that Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) are indeed plumbers from Brooklyn who are transported to another world when sucked into a magical green pipe.
The brothers are separated and Mario winds up in the Mushroom Kingdom where he meets the brave and hardy mushroom-guy Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) who introduces Mario to the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy).
The Mushroom Kingdom is under the threat of attack from Bowser (Jack Black, probably the most inspired casting of the lot) who has captured Luigi and will stop at nothing to conquer all and marry Peach.
Mario and Peach set off to get help from Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) and his Kong army, all while Mario learns the ropes of the crazy new world he finds himself in.
Fans of the games will find lots of action that recreates the gameplay, including an inspired Mario Kart sequence.
It is clear that Nintendo is looking to go the route of Disney and provide family entertainment across all mediums, including theme parks and now movies. The importance of this movie to play the hits and get off of the stage (runtime is a cool 92 minutes) was huge for Nintendo to safely and securely establish its own cinematic universe.
In that regard, it’s mission accomplished. But instead of getting you excited for sequels or spinoffs, it’s much more likely that “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” will make you want to fire up the old console and squash some Goombas for yourself. Of course, maybe that was the point all along.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is rated PG for action and mild violence.