You may think of Mario and his brother, Luigi, as a couple of thickly accented Italian plumbers with bright, monogramed outfits and bushy mustaches.
But hey, all of that is just for the commercials.
I mean, if you’re gonna break away and start your own plumbing business in Brooklyn, ya’ gotta have a schtick, right? Something people will remember. And as goofy as it sounds, That’s-a theirs! (Except for the mustaches, that is. All the men in their family are blessed with fabulous mustache-growing genes, dontcha’ know.)
However, even with a fake persona and a flashy pair of soup-strainers, Mario and Luigi’s business isn’t going so well. There’s always something that goes a bit sideways during their jobs.
Of course, Mario still holds a dream in his heart. He is convinced that if they stick together, he and his brother can be great. Hey, they may even save Brooklyn someday. Uh, plumbing-wise, that is.
And then Mario spots a newscast on TV and sits up with a flush of excitement. A huge water main has cracked open downtown, and the city is having a tough time stopping the flood. This could be the Mario Bros. chance.
Problem is, once Mario and Luigi get to the source of the city’s emergency, they end up being washed into the wrong place and down the wrong pipe. And before you can say Wahoo! They find themselves sucked into some oddly colorful magical dimension … hidden down deep under Brooklyn! Who woulda thunk it?
Mario lands in a Mushroom Kingdom ruled over by a pretty princess in pink named Peach. (Which is, frankly, not such a bad turn of events.) But, not everything is peachy. Mario has some pressing questions to answer.
What is this place? Where did Luigi go? Who’s this dangerous, fire-breathing King Bowser that the mushroomy residents are all afraid of? How can Mario get Princess Peach to give him the time of day?!
One thing’s for sure: Mario has never been a sit-back-and-watch-the-water-drip kinda guy. If he wants answers and solutions, he’s gonna step up with a wrench in hand and work ‘em out.
Mario. Luigi and Princess Peach all fight to protect the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom. And they’re willing to give their all to protect one another.
Peach steps up alone to face a threatening army in order to give her people more time to escape, for instance. And Luigi grabs a manhole cover, taking the brunt of an attack, to shield Mario from Bowser’s flames. For Mario’s part, we see him risk his life to save Donkey Kong from drowning, even though they were at odds with each other.
Peach finds herself quite taken with Mario, in fact—not because he’s tall and handsome or an incredible fighter, but because he’s sincere, kind and refuses to give up.
Mario and Luigi also have a special brotherly bond. Luigi is something of an accident-prone mess-up at times. But Mario resolutely declares, “Nothing can hurt us as long as we’re together!” And indeed, the Bros. are a much more formidable force together.
We learn that both Mario and Donkey Kong are bothered by a seeming lack of respect from their fathers. But by story’ end, both dad’s step forward (at different times) to publicly praise their sons for the brave and upright choices they make.
Even though Bowser is a bully-like ruler who’s not afraid to fire-blast his foes, at his core he’s really seeking Peach’s approval. He declares that he’d actually like nothing better than to simply marry her in a “fairytale wedding.” But, of course, his destructive choices belie any small sighing positives that might peek through in his character.
The magical realms that Mario and Luigi slip into are never really explained, apart from Peach mentioning that there’s a “huge universe out there with a lot of galaxies.” In fact, she notes that she herself stumbled into the Mushroom Kingdom when she was just a little girl. And the mushroomy toad residents there raised her and then made her their princess.
Later in the movie, the magical force that drew Mario and Luigi into that foreign world is reversed, sending Mushroom Kingdom characters into Brooklyn.
It’s not spiritual, per se, but both Bowser’s visage and his dark, floating volcanic lair have a very foreboding and perhaps even devilish-looking vibe to them. It’s also a bit reminiscent of Mordor for Lord of the Rings. That darkness is offset somewhat by Bowser’s goofy minions. But sensitive young viewers might be frightened by Bowser’s foreboding appearance.
A scene early in the film has some of Bowser’s minions crawling up out of the ground to pursue Luigi through a dark forest in a way that’s reminiscent of zombie movies, another scene that could be intense for young or sensitive viewers.
Both Mario and Bowser find Princess Peach to be quite appealing from first sight. And its obvious that Peach kinda thinks Mario is pretty special, too.
Bowser practices his wedding proposal to Princess Peach by dressing up his male wizard like Peach and having him roleplay her response in a scene that’s played for laughs (and which doesn’t seem to be making a political statement, though some might interpret it otherwise).
Once Mario and Luigi find themselves in Peach’s magical realm, the peril of their situation increases dramatically. It’s a cartoony peril but could at times be stressful for younger viewers. That peril is reinforced by threats Bowser and some of his henchmen make to various people. Someone says, “This guy’s brother is going to die imminently.” Another says, “Mario, you’re a dead man!”
Bowser also blows out flamethrower-like bursts of fire that melt an icy castle and burn up a variety of things, including a Koopa that’s transformed from flesh to animated skeleton form. He declares his plans to conquer and rule everything. He sends out his army of Koopas and Ghost Guys and Dry Bones to attack Mario, Peach and the good-guy army.
These battlers smash into each other in Mario Karts, as well as punching and bashing at one another. Vehicles explode and are smashed. A large group of skeleton-like Dry Bones chase and grab at Luigi.
Donkey Kong and Mario jump into battle with each other, and Kong pounds the plumber around, smashing him with barrels and throwing him into walls. It’s only when Mario dons a Cat suit that he comes back with quick scratching attacks. Mario also gets thumped around repeatedly as he tries to make his way through Peach’s obstacle course filled with spikes, clubs and traps.
Again, none of these attacks or thumping falls are bloody or more than cartoony bashes, but the skirmishes can be frenetic at times. And after one pounding battle with Bowser, Mario looks pretty beaten up and bruised until he regroups and steps out once more.
Elsewhere, Bowser intends to destroy a city with a large bomb. And in the real world of Brooklyn, he sends vehicles flying, endangers a large crowd of people and blasts things with fire. But in the end, his destructive plot is foiled.
On a more intimate level, Bowser slams a piano’s wooden keyboard cover down on a sidekick’s fingers and tells him, “Pain is the best teacher.” He declares that he will kill Mario and plans to kill Luigi to set Mario back on his heels. Bowser also decides to sacrifice a large group of prisoners by lowering their cages into a lake of lava. “I’ll be ritualistically sacrificing them in your honor,” he tells Peach. The cages are lowered and begin to melt, but the prisoners are saved.
Mario and Luigi’s former boss, Spike, calls the brothers “stupid” for leaving his employ. “You’re a joke and you always will be,” he tells them. Someone is told to “shut up.” Other name-calling includes similar phrases, such as “idiot,” “lunatic” and “psycho.”
Mario and others bop yellow Question Blocks that hold magic mushrooms. They gobble them down and are given special power-ups. One can make you bigger, another smaller, for instance. We also see the mushrooms give Mario special Cat and Racoon suits to battle with. Peach consumes a (similar) ice flower that gives her icy powers.
There’s one oddly dark element in the mix that’s played for laughs. In the group of prisoners that Bowser is holding elevated in cages, a particular glowing Luma character makes fatalistic statements. This star-like critter is utterly cute-looking but sighs out statements such as, “The only hope is the sweet release of death,” and, “There is no sunshine, only darkness.” These declarations drive the other prisoners crazy as they plead for it to be quiet.
With the announcement of a new animated Super Mario Bros. movie, I’d wager there were a lot of people worrying that some Hollywood braintrust was going to, once again, ruin a memory from their childhood. (Yeah, I’m old enough to remember that truly horrible live-action Mario pic from the ‘90s.)
But worry not: Mario and crew come through the cinematic translation this time with lots of colorful and sparkling charm to spare.
Granted, this pic has the slow upfront load time of an old Game Cube—with story set-up fanservice that tiny fans likely won’t catch. And the central characters don’t sound or always act like you remember (though Jack Black’s Bowser is a hoot.) But their hearts are all in the right place.
There are heroes, cartoony perils, loving family members and a happy ending. In fact, once the gang gets to goofily stomping Koopas, chucking Donkey Kong barrels and gleefully Mario-Karting about, you can’t help but enjoy yourself.
That said, the only real concern is that some scenes might be visually frightening to really young or sensitive viewers. Much of the peril here, most of it really, is pretty cartoony. But Bowser’s glowing eyes and volcanic HQ do have a dark feel to them that might be upsetting to some.
Still, this is a movie for fans, first and foremost. And I suspect most who’ve played any of these games will have a ball watching this rollicking big-screen homage to Nintendo’s flagship franchise.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.