As one of the few – if not the only – family films in cinemas these school holidays, The Super Mario Bros. Movie poses a bit of problem for viewers: it’s smashing box office records but isn’t getting great reviews.
In Australia the movie made $15 million in its first week of release, contributing to global earnings of over $375 million – making it the biggest opening ever for an animated film. That’s huge. That’s bigger than Toy Story, bigger than Despicable Me, bigger than Frozen.
Interestingly though for the happy number crunchers, the “global success” may be more about lack of options than a genuine love for the movie, which critics give a mediocre 56 per cent on review site Rotten Tomatoes, which is staggeringly different to the 96 per cent audiences have given it.
So, is The Super Mario Bros. Movie a dud or a delight?
Pulling hard on our nostalgic attachment to the video game, The Super Mario Bros. Movie introduces us to Mario (Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) when they’ve just started their plumbing business and are trying to cut through the New York City market.
During a job they accidentally get sucked into a portal that leads them to Mushroom Kingdom, where they have to save Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) from the evil Bowser (Jack Black).
The story is simplistic and very low stakes but provides the means by which we travel through your favourite Mario Kart tracks, meeting favourites like Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan), Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Spike (Sebastian Maniscalco).
The people who will enjoy the movie most are the ones who remember racing around the circuits themselves, finding power-up mushrooms for Mario and trying to dodge bananas on the corners. The challenge is, the fun they had with Mario Kart was in playing the game themselves not watching it on a screen they couldn’t engage with – essentially taking you back to the times your siblings hogged the controls and your turn was “forever away”.
There’s also a dark melancholic edge to The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which makes sense when Luigi is trapped in the Dark Lands but feels out of place when the fatalistic interjections of what looks like a floating star are thrown in to conversation: hanging above lava the star would rather “fade into death” than be rescued. It’s not exactly a child-friendly message.
Initial controversy around Chris Pratt’s casting and how he’d reflect the accent of an Italian plumber is addressed pretty quickly, when we learn his heritage is hammed up for advertising but thinned out to an everyday Brooklyn accent for everything else. Observing the lack of chatter about the choice, it seems it’s been enough to satisfy the concerned.
What makes Mario great is the unconditional love of Luigi, and what makes Luigi thrive is knowing Mario will never leave him behind.
What draws more attention in the movie is the bond between Mario and Luigi. They’re brothers, business partners and friends and are constantly aware that they’re stronger together than alone. What makes Mario great is the unconditional love of Luigi, and what makes Luigi thrive is knowing Mario will never leave him behind.
Maybe it’s the nostalgic simplicity that’s selling tickets to The Super Mario Bros. Movie but it’s also that quality that makes you wonder what the point of it all was. Yes, it makes big money for Hollywood but it’s otherwise unfortunately an entirely forgettable film.
However, if the 96 per cent audience score is anything to go by, we might still see a franchise made out of Mario yet.