The Super Mario Bros. Movie The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie hits theaters this week, and we’ve gone through the review to see what critics think of the year’s first animated blockbuster.

It’s been a long, long time since we’ve done a reviews roundup here at Cartoon Brew. The last big studio animated feature to get a wide release was Puss in Boots: The Last Wish way back in December of 2022. That film, like the Mario movie, was also distributed by Universal Pictures.

We’re excited to be heading to the theater for a big-budget popcorn flick and hope that waits like the one between Puss in Boots and Mario were a post-Covid blip and not something we should get used to.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is directed by Teen Titans Go! producer-directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic from a screenplay by Matthew Fogel. Illumination’s Chris Meledandri and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto produced.

Very few of the reviews out there so far are overwhelmingly glowing or critical of the film, as represented by its current 54% Rotten Tomatoes aggregate score and 49 Metacritic rating.

Many reviewers agreed that because the film was made to appeal to the widest audience possible it missed out on creating something particularly good or memorable. The consensus seems to be that the film is essentially comfort food. Good enough to entertain for 90 minutes, but not something likely to stand out for much more than what will surely be a tremendous box office run.

A common complaint among critics is that the Mario character is a bit of a bore. Without getting into the Chris Pratt debates that have been raging since his casting was announced, the film suffers from a lead character that has no real story of his own. Mario has been around for decades, and Nintendo has intentionally kept him as a bit of a blank slate. It’s similar to the problems that Disney faces with implementing Mickey Mouse in any kind of content that requires a sophisticated narrative or character growth. It’s not in the interests of these media companies to develop the characters that already net them billions.

There are other complaints and plenty of praise being heaped on the film by critics as well. Here are a few takes that give a good sense of the consensus regarding The Super Mario Bros. Movie:

Lex Briscuso at The Wrap thought the film was the most immersive Mario Bros. experience to date, and that the film could “make a real mark on the feature animation world.”

Illumination has proven itself by now in the animation sphere, but they come to the plate with obvious pride and care on this property, giving fans vibrant and immersive visuals that recall both the original games and a sense of the studio’s own, now-signature style. The different worlds of the film—the Mushroom Kingdom, the Jungle Kingdom, Bowser’s Kingdom, and more—are all so rich and full of life.

Katie Walsh at the Los Angeles Times was, in her own words, only “mildly” amused and found the movie “swift, noisy, and unrelentingly paced.” She did have some kind words for the work done by Illumination’s artist, however:

The film hops from set piece to set piece, and the animation is indeed eye-popping — some backgrounds and elements of this world are almost photorealistic. The style also liberates Mario’s activities from the flat horizontal landscapes with which we’re familiar, putting a more action-packed and dynamic point of view on his leaps and jumps across obstacles as he’s trained by the princess.

The Atlantic’s Dave Sims thought the film was mostly just bearable but had all good things to say about the animation:

[The film] is cheerfully animated and deeply committed to a world that audiences might recall from playing any one of the franchise’s games over the past 30-plus years. The film comes from Illumination, the animation studio that has long pumped out movies featuring the Minions, those cute canary-yellow imbeciles who are chemically designed to delight children. The Super Mario Bros. Movie, out Friday, is no different. It’s a 92-minute injection of kid-friendly joy that whizzes by fast enough to keep adults from getting enraged or bored.

Matthew Huff’s review for AV Club seemed pleased enough with the film and its aesthetic, although he was disappointed that Illumination wasn’t a bit more daring in its execution:

While the references are sure to charm Nintendo lovers, and the standard Illumination-style cartoon humor will please youngsters, the film otherwise doesn’t have a ton to offer. Peach is pluckier and Bowser is a romantic with a penchant for piano ballads but there’s not much new or fresh in the way of story or animation. A weak theme of brotherhood and friendship pops up occasionally, like a soon-to-retreat Piranha Plant, the universe full of magical pipes is never fully explored, and Peach’s backstory is hinted at and then dropped (post-credit scenes suggesting a sequel may mean the writers are saving this for later). While the writing is chuckle-inducing and the voice acting is passable, neither necessitate a second playthrough (it’s no Mario Party 2).

Clarise Loughrey at The Independent appreciated the film’s action sequences and video game throwbacks but would have liked an injection of story to justify the franchise’s big-screen move:

To the film’s credit, it’s certainly not as dull and self-serious as screenwriter Matthew Fogel’s bare-bones plot suggests. The many, many nods to Mario lore are charmingly staged – koopas and goombas and yoshis, oh my! – and there are some nicely executed sequences, including a Mad Max: Fury Road-inspired take on the popular Mario Kart game. It’s hard to demand all that much from a Mario Bros film when its source material has been historically devoid of plot, but shouldn’t we be allowed to demand a little more than mere competency?

The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Directors:Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic
Screenwriter: Matthew Fogel
Producers: Chris Meledandri, Shigeru Miyamoto
Voice Cast: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Kevin Michael Richardson, Sebastian Maniscalco

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