A terrible video game adaptation

Nintendo's iconic Italian plumber hero has already inspired one flop movie – and this sluggish new animation is no better. In fact, it might be worse, writes Nicholas Barber.Mario the plumber has been one of the most beloved characters in the history of video games ever since he was first seen jumping over barrels and running up girders in Donkey Kong in 1981. But even if you've never played a single video game, there is no reason why a Mario film shouldn't be worth seeing. True, 1993's Super Mario Bros, with Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, was a notorious flop, but The Lego Movie was tied to a line of plastic construction sets, and that was wonderful. Wreck-It Ralph demonstrated how clever a cartoon set in a video-game milieu could be. And another recent release Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves proved that films adapted from games could be plenty of fun, whether or not you're familiar with the games in question. Unfortunately, The Super Mario Bros Movie is not one of those films. More like this: – The ultimate video game icon – 11 of the best films to watch in April – The Cold War battle over Tetris The disappointing part is that the missable new cartoon is directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, the makers of the brilliantly zany Teen Titans Go!, but every 10-minute episode of that series had more ideas in it than the whole of their film. Another disappointing aspect is that the early scenes set in Brooklyn are promising. Mario (Chris Pratt, who, as well as starring in Guardians of The Galaxy and Jurassic World, voiced the hero in The Lego Movie) and his nervous younger brother Luigi (Charlie Day) are established as good-hearted, bushy-moustached young guys who are trying to build their own independent plumbing business. There are some sly nods to the games, and some witty explanations for the characters' more questionable qualities: their white gloves are a marketing gimmick, Mario tells his sceptical family, and their exaggerated Italian accents are put on for a TV advertisement. There's an amusingly chaotic set piece in which a tap-fixing job is sabotaged by an embittered dog. And the computer-animation is impressively advanced, the only snag being that the textured surfaces of every object are almost photo-realistic, which makes the simplified, rounded Mario and Luigi look like walking cuddly toys in comparison.Anyway, one night the brothers investigate a flood, which is never explained, and find a magical pipe, which is also never explained. The pipe zaps them both to another planet, or possibly another universe. That's never explained, either. Mario is deposited in the fairy-tale Mushroom Kingdom, where cheerful talking fungi are led by a Barbie-like blonde called Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). But poor Luigi is captured by the monstrous Bowser (Jack Black), who has a name which suggests that he's a dog, and a physique which suggests that he's a dragon, but who is actually the leader of a race of turtles called Koopas. By a remarkable coincidence, the brothers arrive on this surreal planet (or, possibly, in this surreal universe) just after Bowser has just got hold of a glowing star which will enable him to conquer Mushroom Kingdom. To the untrained eye, it looks as if he and his army are so strong that they could have conquered it, anyway, but never mind. The Super Mario Bros Movie has the kind of baffling, nonsensical mythology you might expect when a Japanese game company creates an Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn, and then keeps developing that character's adventures for 40 years. As long as you don't worry about it, and embrace the psychedelic randomness, you can accept it as silly, what's-not-to-like science-fiction. But after a few scenes, this bamboozling plot outline is the least of the film's problems. The trouble starts when Mario is suddenly surrounded by floating bricks, giant gold coins, "Power Up" cubes, and burbling electronic sound effects, which only make sense in the context of a video game. It becomes clear at this stage that the directors have given up on making a cartoon which anyone might enjoy, and have concentrated instead on piling on references for the benefit of the games' devoted fans.What's worse is that the film doesn't just have quick references to these games, it has long sequences lifted from them. Rather than moving along the plot, the directors keep making the characters run around gravity-defying aerial assault courses, or drive racing cars along a rainbow, just because that's what happens in the games. They slow the film to a standstill every time. Mario and Peach are supposed to be rushing to defend her realm from Bowser's invading army, but these pointless sequences remind us that no one is in any hurry to get anywhere. Take into account the lack of logic governing whether it's possible to be injured or killed, and you can see why the film feels so sluggish and padded, even though it's about 80 minutes before the end credits roll. Wh

A terrible video game adaptation
Nintendo's iconic Italian plumber hero has already inspired one flop movie – and this sluggish new animation is no better. In fact, it might be worse, writes Nicholas Barber.

Mario the plumber has been one of the most beloved characters in the history of video games ever since he was first seen jumping over barrels and running up girders in Donkey Kong in 1981. But even if you've never played a single video game, there is no reason why a Mario film shouldn't be worth seeing. True, 1993's Super Mario Bros, with Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, was a notorious flop, but The Lego Movie was tied to a line of plastic construction sets, and that was wonderful. Wreck-It Ralph demonstrated how clever a cartoon set in a video-game milieu could be. And another recent release Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves proved that films adapted from games could be plenty of fun, whether or not you're familiar with the games in question. Unfortunately, The Super Mario Bros Movie is not one of those films.

More like this:
– The ultimate video game icon
11 of the best films to watch in April
The Cold War battle over Tetris

The disappointing part is that the missable new cartoon is directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, the makers of the brilliantly zany Teen Titans Go!, but every 10-minute episode of that series had more ideas in it than the whole of their film. Another disappointing aspect is that the early scenes set in Brooklyn are promising. Mario (Chris Pratt, who, as well as starring in Guardians of The Galaxy and Jurassic World, voiced the hero in The Lego Movie) and his nervous younger brother Luigi (Charlie Day) are established as good-hearted, bushy-moustached young guys who are trying to build their own independent plumbing business. There are some sly nods to the games, and some witty explanations for the characters' more questionable qualities: their white gloves are a marketing gimmick, Mario tells his sceptical family, and their exaggerated Italian accents are put on for a TV advertisement. There's an amusingly chaotic set piece in which a tap-fixing job is sabotaged by an embittered dog. And the computer-animation is impressively advanced, the only snag being that the textured surfaces of every object are almost photo-realistic, which makes the simplified, rounded Mario and Luigi look like walking cuddly toys in comparison.

Anyway, one night the brothers investigate a flood, which is never explained, and find a magical pipe, which is also never explained. The pipe zaps them both to another planet, or possibly another universe. That's never explained, either. Mario is deposited in the fairy-tale Mushroom Kingdom, where cheerful talking fungi are led by a Barbie-like blonde called Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). But poor Luigi is captured by the monstrous Bowser (Jack Black), who has a name which suggests that he's a dog, and a physique which suggests that he's a dragon, but who is actually the leader of a race of turtles called Koopas. By a remarkable coincidence, the brothers arrive on this surreal planet (or, possibly, in this surreal universe) just after Bowser has just got hold of a glowing star which will enable him to conquer Mushroom Kingdom.

To the untrained eye, it looks as if he and his army are so strong that they could have conquered it, anyway, but never mind. The Super Mario Bros Movie has the kind of baffling, nonsensical mythology you might expect when a Japanese game company creates an Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn, and then keeps developing that character's adventures for 40 years. As long as you don't worry about it, and embrace the psychedelic randomness, you can accept it as silly, what's-not-to-like science-fiction. But after a few scenes, this bamboozling plot outline is the least of the film's problems.

The trouble starts when Mario is suddenly surrounded by floating bricks, giant gold coins, "Power Up" cubes, and burbling electronic sound effects, which only make sense in the context of a video game. It becomes clear at this stage that the directors have given up on making a cartoon which anyone might enjoy, and have concentrated instead on piling on references for the benefit of the games' devoted fans.

What's worse is that the film doesn't just have quick references to these games, it has long sequences lifted from them. Rather than moving along the plot, the directors keep making the characters run around gravity-defying aerial assault courses, or drive racing cars along a rainbow, just because that's what happens in the games. They slow the film to a standstill every time. Mario and Peach are supposed to be rushing to defend her realm from Bowser's invading army, but these pointless sequences remind us that no one is in any hurry to get anywhere. Take into account the lack of logic governing whether it's possible to be injured or killed, and you can see why the film feels so sluggish and padded, even though it's about 80 minutes before the end credits roll. Who knew that the slapstick with a dog in a Brooklyn bathroom would be its dramatic and comedic highlight?

Matthew Fogel, the screenwriter, has done an efficient job of linking the various references, but the film has an astonishing lack of jokes, twists, memorable lines, exhilarating stunts, touching emotional moments, and anything else that might engage any viewer who isn't playing spot-the-allusion. As slick and corporate as The Super Mario Bros Movie is, it has a first-draft laziness that's rare in big-screen animation. When Mario is learning to be a hero, Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero is slapped on the soundtrack. When Mario and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) fight in an arena, Kong impersonates Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Does either of those choices seem funny or surprising to you?

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Directors: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic

Cast: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black

Run-time: 1hr 32mins

Release date: 5 April in the US and UK

The film-makers are obviously so sure that they have a can't-fail franchise on their hands that they haven't even bothered with world-building. For instance, a flashback shows us that Princess Peach is a human who wandered into the Mushroom Kingdom from another planet – maybe even the same planet as Mario. But this mystery is neither cleared up nor mentioned again, presumably because the producers are saving it for one of the many sequels that they're planning. No doubt their confidence is justified. The Super Mario Bros Movie will probably make a fortune, because it is harmless and colourful enough to be almost adequate as an Easter holiday time-passer for small children. Any adults accompanying those children may wish they were watching the Hoskins and Leguizamo film instead.

★★☆☆☆

The Super Mario Bros. Movie opens in cinemas in the US and UK on 5 April

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