Video game movies have never had a good reputation, and it stems all the way back to the first of Hollywood's many attempts at capitalizing on popular video game franchises, 1993's Super Mario Bros. It is truly one of the most brain-numbing, eye-strainingly painful movies to watch because of how bad it is, and it's truly a wonder how it even got made in the first place, because, somehow, some human with a functioning brain decided to produce it. My how time changes things and thankfully for the better--Mario and Luigi are back on the silver screen, and this time, you'll feel like a winner by the end, instead of feeling like you got a game over.
Much like the famous Mario games, Mario and Luigi travel through a magical world in order to stop the fearsome, fire-breathing, turtle monster Bowser from taking over the Mushroom Kingdom, ruled by Princess Peach. And that's it. If you've played a Mario game, you know what to expect. Some have criticized the lack of depth and emotional moments in the movie and brush this off as just another kid's movie, but as someone who's played just about every mainline Mario entry, I'm very pleased with the simple story. Surprisingly, it shares a similar set-up as the awful 1993 film; Mario and Luigi are plumbers in Brooklyn and discover a portal that leads them into another world. Thankfully, it's handled much better. Once Mario lands in the Mushroom Kingdom and Luigi lands in the dark lands, the movie becomes a feast for the eyes. The video game world comes to life in striking detail, with bountiful nods for fans to catch! Mario is a caring, good-natured brother who wants to be supportive of his younger sibling, and Luigi is a nervous wreck at the sight of any form of danger. These characteristics are simplistic, but the movie's story doesn't necessarily demand more out of them than that. There're no lessons to learn, and the brothers save the day by literally being by each other's side. What this movie focuses on is fun, and it is full of it from start to finish. From a colorful cast to karts clashing, this is 100% a Mario movie. Fans of the games are in for a real treat. No nightmare fuel in this adaptation!
When the cast was first announced, it caused a bit of a stir. No longer will Mario and Luigi sound like their hyper-Italian video game counterparts. Now, Chris Pratt and Charlie Day are putting on more of a Brooklyn accent for the iconic duo, and after the movie addresses the voice change in a delightful and surprisingly respectful way, I started getting used to this new rendition, even forgetting that Pratt was voicing Mario, aside from a couple of slipups where his real voice snuck in. Disappointingly, Day's Luigi doesn't get much screentime, since this time around the brother is in need of rescuing instead of the princess, and this is a bit of a bummer because Luigi does get to shine a couple of times. Speaking of the princess, Anya Taylor-Joy voices this more heroic version of Princess Peach, and Keegan-Michael Key voices her loyal subject Toad. I like the voices they used for the characters, but I wish they were given more standout moments, particularly Toad. When you have a comedic legend like Key to voice a character, you should let him be funny more. There were a couple of times when he humored me, but I was expecting more clever and well-designed jokes from Key's performance, though this is reflective of Illumination's past films, so I can't really blame the actors for not being able to invoke laughter out of me. Even Seth Rogan's Donkey Kong was a bit humorless, though I suppose that's reflective of the character, but again, he's known for comedic roles, so it's weird not having him be funny like he was in Monsters vs Aliens. Weird nitpick: Rogan is the only one not doing a voice uniquely designed for the character, which makes Donkey Kong feel less special in the midst of the other characters; it makes him just another Rogan role, complete with his obnoxious chuckle. But he doesn't do a bad job, just seemed oddly out-of-place. I saved the best voice acting review for last because he's well-deserving of his kingly role--Jack Black as Bowser was casting perfection. Black puts on a monstrous voice that is somehow utilized in playful ways. Heck, he even sings in his Bowser voice, and it's quite impressive, surprisingly. Now he got me to chuckle a few times, and honestly, I wouldn't mind a Bowser-centric movie and let Black unleash the character's full potential (A family sitcom-style movie of Bowser trying to raise his son? Make it happen, Illumination!). Though the script didn't give its comedic actors many chances to make the audience laugh, I was quite pleased with how the new voices turned out. Their silly, over-the-top performances help make the movie so much fun to watch.
Illumination has never been the talk-of-the-town studio when it comes to animation style. I've heard many people compare their animation to their competitors as cheap and lacking in visual distinctiveness. Though they capture the look of the video games perfectly (Thus, I can't give full kudos to the originality in the designs of the film.), this is the first time I can say that an Illumination film is stunning. They said they upgraded their technology to capture the magical and vibrant world of the Mushroom Kingdom, and they weren't kidding. It's a beautifully designed and incredibly well animated film. On top of that, the music is wonderfully adapted by Brian Tyler. He utilizes dozens of classic video game tunes in brilliant ways. From Bowser playing the Underground Theme on the piano to an epic rendition of the Power Star ditty, there are so many musical Easter Eggs that it's sure to make any Mario fan of any generation a little tearful. The artistry in this movie is fueled with so much passion and childlike giddiness that it blends together to create a truly delightful display of incredible talent.
There's a reason why the word "the" is in the title of this Mario movie--it's THE definitive big screen adaptation of the beloved Nintendo franchise, unlike the previous attempt back in the 90s. Though the film isn't very clever in its humor or concerned with a thought-provoking story, it's an incredibly vibrant and fun adventure that replicates the childlike bliss of the source material. If you enjoy the video games, then you'll most likely enjoy this animated adventure, and maybe, just maybe, you'll let out a "Wahoo!" when the credits roll.