The Super Mario Bros Movie

Year: 2023
Studio: Universal
Director: Aaron Horvath/Michael Jelenic/Pierre Leduc/Fabien Polack
Producer: Chris Meledandri
Writer: Matthew Fogel
Cast: Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Anya Taylor Joy, Seth Rogen, John DiMaggio, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen

Pixar changed family entertainment back in its heyday, and while the studio was never the one to lean the heaviest into sly nods of humour for the parents and adults in the audience, the way it raised the bar of acceptable quality in the genre overall prompted a new movement of four quadrant fare where mums and dads got something out of it – often something very different from what the kids got.

So when you sit down to a big budget CG animated family adventure comedy like this nowadays, you expect a few chuckles at stuff that goes over the heads of 80 percent of the audience.

Maybe when they announced this movie late last year the response on social media was so overwhelming Universal and Nintendo knew they had a moneymaking machine and decided to save a few bucks on screenwriting by eliminating the final few passes that might have built in better patter, more zingers and more wry nods to older viewers.

(And who am I to complain about it when they've been completely vindicated? As I write these words, it's about to become 2023's first billion dollar box office movie.)

Because even though the world looks lived in and real in its surfaces, light, physics and aesthetic, it's a bright shiny bauble with nothing underneath. You're just watching game characters rendered better than you see on a Switch doing what they do.

If you care, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are Brooklyn plumbers going nowhere who get magically sucked into another world where giant dragon turtle thing Bowser (Jack Black) is trying to take over everything and marry Princess Peach (Anya Taylor Joy).

The forces of good rallying behind the princess aren't enough to hold Bowser off, and when Luigi is captured and imprisoned Mario has two reasons to join the fight – stand up for the oppressed and save his brother.

They have to team up with the Kong clan, which gives the story the chance to have Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) join the action, and the action set pieces – as well as occasionally the musical score – are drawn from the games in the Mario universe. There's a well made and exciting car chase straight out of Mario Kart, for instance.

But great animation is a given in this day and age, and a world you feel like you could reach through the screen and touch is the bare minimum you expect from anything they spend $100m on. But that's all there is here, with plenty of wasted space for better dialogue and especially some clever gags.

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