Super Mario Movie

Spoiler Alert: The Super Mario Bros Movie Gets It Right – Satisfying, Nostalgic, and Awesome

Super Mario Bros is the latest video game adaptation movie to come out, and it is one that I was only mildly interested in despite it being made for me. I tried running through my head all of the Mario games I had played. Super Mario 1,2,3 on NES, Super Mario World, Super Mario Allstars, Super Mario RPG, Mario Kart on SNES, Mario 64, Smash Bros, Mario Party, Mario Kart 64 on the N64, Super Mario Sunshine, Paper Mario, and Smash on Gamecube, Mario Galaxy 1,2, Smash and Party on Wii, Mario Maker and Mario 3d on Wii U, and Odyssey and Smash on Switch. It was a much longer list than I thought. And of course, my name is Mario, so I have lived with Mario my whole life.

Nintendo 64 Super Mario Bros
Special thanks to Mario Vargas for the guest post!

I think my relative apathy towards the movie is mainly because the game has no real story, so what could the movie be about? The casting of Chris Pratt was one of the craziest moments of last year. I just watched the Super Mario Bros. Movie, and most of my movie party either fell asleep or missed a bunch of action while they went to the restroom. So why did they decide to make the Mario movie now? I guess Nintendo is finally branching out; they made their first IOS app in 2016. 7 years is not quite the development cycle of an animated movie. There’s no big Nintendo console, no new Mario game. So why did they make it? My conclusion: because they could. Not like, just because they can, but because the formula for a good adaptation/nerd culture movie is set and pretty bulletproof.

What Makes a Video Game Adaptation Successful

To me, the key to a good adaptation comes down to 3 things. 1: Respect for the IP. 2: Respect for the fans. 3: A point of view or a story to tell. You need a good amount of all of them to make a good adaptation.

1: Respect for the IP is not to be taken lightly, yet it seems to be the first thing that is to blame when the movie is terrible. For the purpose of this example, I’m going to use the DC extended Universe from my perspective so I’m not doing a ton of research here. My first takeaway from Batman vs Superman, aside from how weird it was, was that they got Batman so wrong. Batman doesn’t use guns and doesn’t kill, he’s the world’s greatest detective. He’s not usually thought of as a tech genius, but in BvS he’s an idiot and a murderous psychopath. When I first said that the response was, well what if I wasn’t a Batman fan and didn’t know that about him? For BvS, the movie was pretty terrible even without that baggage. But the character is defined by their source material, and deviating from that too many changes and likely ruins the character. 

Video Games
Julia Lepetit and Andrew Bridgman from Dorkly

To me, the key to a good adaptation comes down to 3 things. 1: Respect for the IP. 2: Respect for the fans. 3: A point of view or a story to tell. You need a good amount of all of them to make a good adaptation.

2: Respect for the fans is of utmost importance. This goes hand in hand with respect for the IP. The DCEU example is how they didn’t like Martian Manhunter and thought their fans of them were nerds. The other example is when people write off plot holes as “This is a kid’s movie, who cares”. Attention to detail is the name of the game when it comes to nerd culture. After every superhero or video game movie or show, the first place I go is to YouTube to watch an easter egg video on it. The little things in the background are what bring people to the theater multiple times.

3: Most movies start as a corporate plan to make money, sell toys, and nowadays expand the franchise. If that’s all the movie has to offer, it will not have the impact or staying power. The Illumination team and the actual creator of Super Mario Bros Shigeru Miyamoto were in lockstep for every element of the cast, movie, decisions…everything.

Super Mario Bros - Illumination & Nintendo
Super Mario Bros – Illumination & Nintendo

Using my own three qualifications for a successful adaptation, Super Mario Bros was a success.

1: The Super Mario Bros movie held the utmost respect for the franchise and Nintendo IP in general. It didn’t have to do much since the games have been in HD 3D graphics for a while, but they didn’t change things much. I thought there were a few ways to handle the video game world. They could adapt the characters to a heightened version of the real world, which is how the movie started. They could make it all in the video game world where they are just regular people in a crazy world. They settled on the portal to another dimension, similar to the Sonic movie. I think it was the easy way out, but as I said before, the formula for these movies is proven to work, and for something of this much international, multigenerational influence, it was the right call. But it does leave the door open for anything to happen in the sequel, as the worlds merged together in the end, which I am excited about.

Creator of Mario Bros Shigeru Miyamoto and Illumination Founder and CEO Chris Meladandri

2. They did well here to change Mario’s voice from the Linda Belcher voice in the first teaser. It ended up mostly harmless, but also not a great case for why it was Chris Pratt. It reminded me of Jack Black in Shark Tale, they sounded different from themselves but nothing special. What was special in this case was Jack Black as Bowser. He made his voice a little deeper but kept the fun and goofiness, plus let him sing a bit and it was great. They also managed to bring in elements from the most popular Nintendo games that felt organic. They used the vast library of great music from the games to add to the nostalgia. They came up with a new spin on the Bowser/Princess story and Peach’s origin as well, which I think worked ok for the world-building.

3. They made Mario a sort of Steve Rogers type, the little guy with a giant heart that never gives up and fights for good. They made Mario and Luigi a duo that believes in each other and I was excited when they beat up Bowser together in the end. They also added an….interesting family plotline, where Mario and Luigi were struggling to get their family’s support.

Closing thoughts

I did really enjoy it. It was fun, gorgeous to watch, well-paced, and full of details and easter eggs that this movie requires. My gripes: the intro with the fight against the dog was stressful. We’re supposed to laugh at this dog going after them but I was just worried about the damage they’re causing in the expensive New York apartment. Why make Mario hate mushrooms? Other than that, it was better than it needed to be.

I think this type of movie, with the budget and cast and decades of success as a franchise, has a high floor. Like how most games reviewed rarely dip below a 7/10, I think the Super Mario Movie couldn’t be that bad. I would probably put it at 9/10. Bright, beautiful action, fast-paced with a core of a brotherly bond that was hinted at early but was mostly in the background during an enjoyable ride of nostalgia.

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