Review by Daniel Blackaby April 6, 2023
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Christian Movie Review)
Verdict: The movie has everything necessary to level up as the next big animated franchise with vibrant visuals, a loving respect for the source material, and a wholesome story the whole family can enjoy.
About The Movie
That sound you hear is Illumination Studios punching out an infinite stream of coins from a yellow question-mark box. Thirty years after the abomination of 1993’s bizarre and joyless live-action Mario film, Nintendo’s iconic mustached plumber has finally grabbed hold of a 1-Up mushroom and found new life in animated form. The Super Mario Bros. Movie has everything necessary to level up as the next big animated franchise—vibrant visuals, a loving respect for the source material, and a wholesome story. This film is everything the live-action adaptation was not, which is to say, a total delight.
After a fun opening showdown between Bowser and some penguins, the movie takes time to gain traction. The early scenes introducing the mono-colored brothers are set in real-world Brooklyn, and while there are some clever nods to the video game, it doesn’t really feel like Super Mario. But once they’re pulled through a green pipe into the Mushroom Kingdom, the film finds its footing. From that point on, it’s a joy. For viewers like me who remember every hidden coin block and warp pipe in the original Super Mario game or for younger audiences like my 8-year-old twin boys who’ve only experienced the more recent adventures in Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart, this film is a delight.
It is an earnest celebration of all things Super Mario, packed with easter eggs and references that bring the game—in its many iterations—to life. From a re-creation of Mario Kart (yes, the spiky blue shell is depicted as appropriately evil), to a nod to Mario and Donkey Kong’s first chronological showdown, to re-constructed levels from the original game, almost everything from the franchise’s history makes an appearance (the vastly underrated Super Mario 2 was tragically underrepresented, but I digress…).
From the visuals to the music to the references, it banks heavily on nostalgia and some level of previous engagement with the video game. Viewers who are unfamiliar with the source material may not enjoy the film to the same degree, though there is enough action and humor to serve as a potential entry point for Mario newbies as well.
The story is fun but relatively simple. The characters are likeable even if they are left mostly undeveloped. This decision makes sense for a movie based on a video game that isn’t renowned for its complex characters or intricate plot. Chris Pratt is fine as Mario, with his non-traditional voice adequately explained in one of the first scenes. Making a bigger impression is Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is reimagined as a strong-willed monarch and action hero rather than a damsel in distress (a role instead given to poor Luigi). Having spent her fair share of time in Bowser’s clutches, I liked the new take on Peach, and her elevated role doesn’t come at the expense of Mario. As essentially the only female character in the movie, the story allows ample space for both her and Mario to shine as superstars. Speaking of stars, rounding out the cast is Bowser (voiced by Jack Black), who is exactly what you’d expect of a Koopa version of Jack Black.
Several areas of the film can be nitpicked. The animation is visually interesting, but not on par with many recent films. The use of non-Mario music felt odd. The opening act is slow and a bit awkward. But in the end, The Super Mario Bros. Movie succeeds for all the reasons the video game franchise has captivated players for decades. It’s a bright and colorful world filled with quirky characters, fast-paced and whimsical action, and joyful escapism. The movie may not be complex but, like the game, it’s fun for all ages.
On the Surface
Language: A character says “stupid,” and there are a few other rude remarks (such as Mario being told he’s a “joke”).
Violence: Bowser talks about committing the “ritualistic sacrifice” of his prisoners (which simply involves lowering their cages into the lava), but they are rescued. One unfortunate Koopa is engulfed by Bowser’s fiery breath, reducing it to a “dry bones” skeleton (although still alive, because this is Mario). During a fight between Mario (in a catsuit) and Donkey Kong, the latter gets bloodless scratches on his face.
Sexuality: During a scene in which Bowser is rehearsing for his desired wedding with Princess Peach, his wizard henchman Kamek plays the role of the princess, complete with makeup, a tiara, and the iconic pink dress. It’s a classic gag that doesn’t seem nefarious, but it could perhaps be considered “cross-dressing.”
Other: There is a recurring gag surrounding a luma (a cute star-like creature) who has been a prisoner for so long it has lost its sanity and makes dark, despairing statements. The adorable character cheerfully makes comments like, “The only hope is the sweet release of death.” The creature is essentially suicidal, and it seems disappointed when Mario rescues the prisoners before they are lowered into the lava. It is clearly played for humor, and it is quite funny, although the dark humor is somewhat at odds with the film’s otherwise peppy tone and may concern some parents.
Beneath The Surface
Engage The Film
Perseverance & Community
Mario and Luigi are optimistic that they will accomplish something special, even if nobody else shares their opinion. They believe in themselves and refuse to give up when things don’t go their way. Several characters tell Mario, “You don’t know when to quit,” which he eventually realizes is a positive trait. The theme is not presented merely as an individualistic pursuit but as communal. Mario and Luigi share a special brotherly bond. There is no forced angst or drama between them. They care about each other, and they both believe they “can accomplish anything if we stick together.” In fact, the only thing that really seems to shake Mario’s belief in himself is his concern that his failure will negatively impact his brother. It’s a simple but wholesome theme that Christian parents can affirm and use as a discussion starter with their children.
Commonalities & Differences
The inclusion of Donkey Kong characters sets up another positive theme about working as a team despite differences. The movie celebrates those differences while also showing how characters have more in common than they might initially realize. The theme is evident in the interactions between citizens of Mushroom Kingdom and the Kongs. Princess Peach declares that the Mushroom Kingdom’s toads possess “heart,” and the Kongs have “strength,” and that they can defeat Bowser by working together. On an individual level, Mario and Donkey Kong are forced to work together, even though they start off on shaky ground. Despite one being a short Italian human and the other a towering tie-wearing ape, they come to realize they both carry the weight of disapproving fathers and the desire to prove their worth. They have a lot in common, even if they don’t want to admit it.
Pretty good review, much better than most of the mainstream woke critics. I wouldn’t say the beginning of the movie (or any part of it) is slow. Also the fact that Peach is not a damsel-in-distress in very likely driven by some feminist influence, which thankfully Nintendo stepped in and toned down. Luigi should not have been captured by Bowser.
by Jay Brewer
Highly, highly recommended for all families with younger kids. Vibrant and likeable, the Mario brothers are great heroes. It’s also fun for all Nintendo and Super Mario fans, including this 41 yr-old dad. Good morals, positive characters, and a fun villain. But where was Yoshi?