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The Super Mario Bros. Movie is visually stunning with a lackluster plot

The Super Mario Bros. Movie was released in theaters on April 5th of this year. The film is an adaptation of the Super Mario Bros. franchise created by Nintendo and was produced by the animation studio Illumination. 

The film has received both harsh criticism and praise from reviewers. Interestingly, opinions on the film seemed to be polarized between professional movie critics and casual viewers. Nowhere else is the contrast more evident than on the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes page, which shows a below-average critic score of 58% and a contrasting audience score of 96%. 

The Super Mario Bros. Movie’s polarized reception between critics and viewers seems to follow in the footsteps of other recent cinematic video game adaptations. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the second installment in the film franchise based on the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise of games received comparatively lukewarm reviews from critics compared to its audience score.

The logo for the first Sonic The Hedgehog film (PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons)

After my own viewing of the film, my opinion stands somewhere in the middle. The most appealing aspect of the film by far is the animation. Typically Illumination films have lower budgets than films animated by other studios such as Pixar or Dreamworks and thus have accordingly cheaper looking animation. The Super Mario Bros. Movie breaks this trend with its gorgeous depiction of the Mario franchise’s iconic locations.

The film’s backgrounds range from vibrantly colored and whimsical to dark and ominous depending on the tone the scene wishes to convey. The film’s character designs are also the most expressive to come out of the studio’s history, with each design transitioning from the medium of video games almost flawlessly to the big screen.

Brian Tyler, the composer for the Super Mario Bros. Movie (PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons)

Another unique addition to the movie is its soundtrack, composed by Brian Tyler. The soundtrack makes heavy use of leitmotifs from the Mario franchise. At certain moments I felt as though these leitmotifs were discarded in favor of more typical cinematic music, taking away from the immersion.

The most likely source of the overwhelming praise the film has gotten from mainstream audiences is its respect for the source material. References to Mario games, Mario characters, and even other Nintendo games are sprinkled throughout the backgrounds of scenes, indicating that the film was made with real respect towards the Mario franchise and its fans.

Arguably the biggest drawback for both myself and the various critics who reviewed the film was the plot, which left much to be desired. The plot seemed to lead into events with no real payoff and, most disappointingly, gave its characters very little time to develop.

Aaron Horvath, one of the co-directors for the Super Mario Bros. Movie (PHOTO CREDIT: Gage Skidmore)

Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, cocreators of the Cartoon Network show Teen Titans Go! Codirected the film. The show is well known for its humor and sporadic, episodic plot. This may explain the relatively sparse plot as both directors are more experienced in writing comedy rather than scenes with any dramatic weight. 

The acting in the film, while infamous before release, was passable and even excellent in some scenes. Jack Black as Bowser was incredibly entertaining and definitely the most memorable performance. Chris Pratt was also surprisingly good as Mario despite the infamy surrounding his announcement as the character.

Ultimately, I believe that the Super Mario Bros. Movie is neither a bad movie as reported by critics, nor a masterpiece as stated by audiences. I thought that the film was an enjoyable experience heightened by its stunning animation and visuals while simultaneously being brought down by its underwhelming plot and story beats.

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