Power Up for a Trip Down Memory Lane, “Super Mario Bros.”

Illumination Entertainment & Universal Pictures, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie”, 2023

There are times when the multiplex seems packed with films catering to teenage boys. Movies made for fans of superheroes or scary films that make me cringe. Right now, there’s a wonderful mix of movies that can suit most anyone’s taste. Older audiences can watch “Air” or “Book Club: The Next Chapter” with Jane Fonda et al. There’s a new horror film, there’s the latest John Wick movie for stylized violence, and the final Fast & Furious film for car chases galore.

There’s a film aimed at young women, “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” A movie adapting the best-selling book from Judy Blume, the film is also aimed at adults who have nostalgia for their childhood. Remember when your biggest worry was how to ask Mom for your first bra? Or the excruciating embarrassment of buying pads (or condoms) at the drugstore? Perhaps you remember a more pleasant childhood memory of plumbers, a princess and grabbing stars? You’re in luck because “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is now in theaters.

Clearly, lots of people have memories of playing the Nintendo game. The film has been the number one box office draw for the last three weeks, grossing over one billion dollars. A surprise hit for directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (“Teen Titans Go!”), the animated film was made during the pandemic. Even people who never played the game will recognize the characters as they’re such a part of American culture.

image taken from a Mario video game

Created by Japanese game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario was popular around the time everyone was playing Asteroids or Pac Man. There’s a nostalgia for games of our youth. The Mario games were not complex, so most anyone could play them and have fun. The graphics were so basic that the elements were mainly blocks and you had to squint to distinguish the characters. You may not have had a Gameboy or Nintendo PlayStation, but you likely knew someone who did.

Mario is the hero of the game. He’s a mustache-sporting plumber dressed in red overalls with large white gloves. A simple character at a time when the graphics were boxy, 16-bit basic formats. Chris Pratt is the voice of the Mario character in “Super Mario Bros.” and his brother (the green version of Mario), Luigi, is voiced by Charlie Day. The banter between the brothers is sweet. They sidestep the criticism of the broad Italian stereotypes by making their accents thick in the commercial for their plumbing business. They make fun of it themselves.

There are many recognizable stars in the animated cast. Seth Rogen seems to have a great time as Donkey Kong. His father, Cranky Kong, is voiced by Fred Armisen. Our heroine is Anya Taylor-Joy as the no-nonsense Princess Peach. Stealing every scene is the villain Bowser, voiced by Jack Black. A megalomaniac turtle with a taste for hard rock and destruction, Bowser also sports some outlandish hats. He gets to sing a comical love song. It’s out of character to have a villain professing his love in a silly Jack Black song. It’s a fun twist.

A couple of scenes are set in the Dark Realm of Bowser’s world. Luigi is in jeopardy there and chased by zombie skeletons and captured by frightening (but oddly cute?) gas-mask-wearing creatures. I know one parent who mistakenly brought his sensitive 4-year-old. They left after that scene. Too scary for the youngest kids. There were lots of families at the screening I attended, and the consensus was “cute”. Not a great film but a good time together nonetheless.

The movie does a great job of imitating the game play of Mario Bros. There’s lots of leaping from block to block, Mario gets to power up (getting larger and stronger) and there are cute animal suits which give him powers. The animation is well-done. Unlike the original game, where Mario is rescuing the Princess, the movie has Princess Peach defending her own Mushroom Kingdom with the scrappy mushroom, Toad (Keegan-Michael Key). She’s capable of rescuing herself.

You can give in to a little nostalgia and enjoy Game Night at the movies. “Super Mario Bros. Movie” is now the most successful Video Game Adaptation ever created. And in even better news–it’s a short hour and a half. You may leave the theater humming “Peaches, Peaches, Peaches…

Drinks with Films rating: one mushroom (extra colorful) out of 5

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