It’s easy to be skeptical about next year’s Mario movie. There was already trepidation surrounding the project when it was announced that Illumination is producing it, the same studio responsible for the much-reviled Minions franchise. To top it off, the reveal that Chris Pratt will be voicing the iconic plumber mostly attracted mockery and outrage. A quick search of reactions videos will show people either laughing themselves into unconsciousness or left silently dumbfounded at the casting choice.
At the time of writing, Nintendo and Illumination have shared next to nothing about the movie’s plot or even a trailer. All we have is a cast list, a poster with only a Question Mark Block on it, and a release date of Dec. 21, 2022. But even with so little information, there is one thing we can be certain of: It will be better than the 1993 live-action movie.
The Illumination Mario movie has two distinct advantages which assure that, even if it’s not a good movie, it will be a marked improvement over Super Mario Bros: The Movie. Number one is that Nintendo is far more involved this time than it was with the live-action one, and number two is that it will be animated. The Mario universe has spent the last 40 odd years establishing itself as a weird, wonderful, cartoony place; one that can really only be fully realized in animated form. It doesn’t matter if Pratt doesn’t bother attempting a Charles Martinet impression (thanks toofab) or if the plot will involve some Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle shenanigans where regular people are teleported into the games to 'become' Mario and friends; it will at the very least look and feel like a Mario movie, something the 1993 film undeniably failed at.
A Dino-sore Spot
Admittedly, the live-action movie has over time garnered itself a cult following and, in 2012, an actual webcomic sequel. But it’s difficult to imagine anyone looking at Super Mario Bros: The Movie and wholeheartedly believe it's a genuinely good flick. At best, it’s a guilty pleasure. At worst, it’s a confusing, chaotic mess with very few redeeming qualities.
Even the people who made it have less than fond memories. In a 2007 interview with The Guardian, Bob Hoskins (who played Mario) didn't attempt to hide his disdain for it, calling the movie the worst thing he ever did, blasting the husband-and-wife directing team as arrogant and "f***in' idiots." He also admitted to getting drunk with his co-star John Leguizamo (who played Luigi) before filming each day, something that becomes more apparent on re-watches. Dennis Hopper (Bowser/President Koopa) said near enough the same thing in a 2008 interview with AV Club, calling the directors "control freaks" who "wouldn't talk before they made decisions."
There are plenty of deep dives and analysis videos about the behind-the-scenes drama out there, but it’s obvious just watching it that nearly everyone involved seemed to have no idea what they were doing or what was going on, with a script that was no doubt being re-written during filming. Despite the overall premise being relatively simple (princess gets kidnapped and heroes go to save her and stop the bad guy taking over the world), it is oddly confusing at times. Some scenes pass by so quickly, it's really easy to miss certain plot points, like how the guitarist that is arrested is meant to be Toad. Some aspects aren’t even explained at all. Koopa's two bumbling henchman abruptly switch sides just because, and Fiona Shaw's character is barely established to the point where her entire presence could be cut and change absolutely nothing. She’s not even mentioned in the Wikipedia synopsis. The one exception is the backstory involving the meteor and how the dinosaur dimension was created, which is reiterated multiple times throughout the movie as if the writers were worried the audience would keep forgetting it.
A few scenes in particular clearly lack anything remotely resembling direction. Take Mario and Luigi’s arrival in Dinohattan, the movie’s dystopian take on the Mushroom Kingdom. The movie barely takes any time to introduce this new world to the brothers or the audience, and the whole scene is simply loud and nonsensical, with the background extras doing whatever the heck they want with little rhyme or reason. But perhaps the worst part of the script is how Mario and Luigi don’t actually do all that much. After arriving in the parallel world, they’re almost thrown from scene to scene haphazardly. At one point, they vanish for a good chunk of it, with the focus shifting to the captive Daisy and the villains, and they’re not even the ones who rescue Daisy. She winds up breaking herself out with some assistance from Yoshi, the Toad-turned-Goomba, and Koopa's former lackeys.
An Unfaithful Adaptation
The obvious point of contention is how much the movie fails to replicate the world and characters of the games (although, hilariously, Shigeru Miyamoto himself believes the movie failed for trying to be too faithful -- what movie did you watch, Miyamoto?). This is partly because the aim was for the movie to act as a prequel -- to tell the story that inspired the creation of the games. It even has a pre-MCU post-credits scene of two Japanese businessman offering to make a game based on Koopa's henchman. But that doesn’t even work with how tenuously connected the movie and the games are. There's no Princess Peach, for instance, and Koopa's dinosaur form is barely a thing before he's reduced to slime.
On top of that, considering the Mario franchise has this all-ages appeal, there is nothing about this movie that looks like it would resonate with children. There were attempts to make the script more family friendly, yet the final product lacks any real color outside of Mario and Luigi's classic red and green overalls. At times, it's almost ugly and unpleasant to look at (the sentient fungus is easily the biggest offender) and there are occasionally ill-fitting and overtly sexual undertones. And this was after the strippers and other sexually explicit content was edited out anyway, according to Leguizamo.
There are a couple positives: Hoskins and Leguizamo are actually good picks for the Mario Bros., and this is one of the few pieces of Mario media to acknowledge the Luigi/Daisy ship (shut up, they’re cute). But it attempted to translate this franchise into a live-action setting while simultaneously disregarding everything about it, turning a whimsical fantasy world into a gritty nightmare. It's no wonder that Nintendo would develop such an iron grip on its franchises as a result, denying the world any more major Hollywood Nintendo movies for nearly three decades. Nintendo’s overprotectiveness of its IPs can be annoying at times, but it does ensure that the new movie won’t do anything that could potentially harm the brand. As such, while it’s not guaranteed to be a good movie, it’ll certainly be of a higher quality than the first one, barring any behind-the-scenes troubles of its own. Sure, some of the casting decisions are a bit odd but at least the likes of Bowser and Toad will look like Bowser and Toad.