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(2023) (voices of Chris Pratt, Charlie Day) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Action/Comedy: Brotherly plumbers end up in another dimension where they must contend with a powerful king who wants to conquer neighboring kingdoms.

Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) are Brooklyn-based brothers who've just started their own plumbing business. While trying to solve a huge flooding problem, they accidentally end up sucked through a portal and into another dimension.

Mario lands in the lovely and pastel-colored Mushroom Kingdom, while Luigi ends up in the Dark Lands, ruled by Bowser (voiced by Jack Black), a fire-breathing, anthropomorphic turtle king who's just obtained the all-powerful Super Star and intends to use it to conquer other nearby lands, including the Mushroom Kingdom.

There, a mushroom character named Toad (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) escorts Mario to their leader, Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy) who decides that the only way to save both Luigi and her land is to convince Cranky Kong (voiced by Fred Armisen) and his gorilla army of the Jungle Kingdom to join forces with them.

But first, Mario must defeat Cranky's powerful son, Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen), in combat, with Mario learning how to harness magic powers to win. With that out of the way, the lands unite and set out to defeat Bowser who desires to marry Princess Peach and otherwise destroy her kingdom should she refuse the marriage proposal.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

I grew up in the initial golden era of video games, beginning with the then mind-blowing (at least to an 8-year-old in 1972) introduction of Pong, followed by the likes of Asteroids, Space Invaders, Defender, Galaga, Missile Command, Tempest, Battlezone and the like. It wasn't until Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-man that you had an on-screen character -- at least sort of -- that then led to Donkey Kong, Q*Bert, and eventually Mario Bros.

Not surprisingly, Hollywood -- back before they would adapt a movie out of pretty much any source material -- didn't bite on those earlier impersonal games, but eventually jumped into the fray with the full-length, live-action version of "Super Mario Bros." in 1993.

Starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, and Samantha Mathis, the film flopped both with critics and audiences alike. It would be another twenty-six years before parent company Nintendo decided to dip their toes into the movie world again with "Pokémon: Detective Pikachu."

With the worldwide success of that film ($400 million+), they decided to give brothers Mario and Luigi another go, albeit this time in animated form with "The Super Mario Brothers Movie." It arrives as a collaboration between Nintendo, Universal Pictures, and Illumination (the computer-animation studio behind -- among other films -- the "Despicable Me/Minions" franchise). And there's no debate that the offering is a decidedly far better and -- from what I've heard -- more faithful representation of the game, its characters, and the involved gameplay.

I included the latter point as I was getting out of the video game world and entering young adulthood when the original game came out. While I played it a few times, I certainly don't remember any specifics all these decades later and thus didn't appreciate the various callbacks to the source material that pop up from time to time.

Aside from appeasing those diehard fans, the question is whether casual ones or those completely new to this video game world will enjoy what screenwriter Michael Fogel and co-directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic have delivered. For the most part, I'd say yes, but this isn't anywhere as creative or fun as, say, "The LEGO Movie" was in wildly exceeding expectations in terms of sheer creativity and imagination.

The story revolves around plumber brothers Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) whose new foray into their own business quickly goes down the drain when they're sucked into another dimension. Mario lands in the brightly colored and cheery Mushroom Kingdom, where he meets a mushroom character named Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) who takes him to their leader, the lovely Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy).

Luigi, meanwhile, ends up in the Dark Lands, must elude animated skeletons, lava, and bats, and eventually is captured and imprisoned by King Bowser (Jack Black). He's a fire-breathing, anthropomorphic turtle king who lays waste to anyone and everything, but has a soft spot for the princess and hopes to marry her. If not, he'll wipe out her kingdom as well.

Unaware of the pending wedding proposal but fully aware of his main plan, she visits the Jungle Kingdom -- run by Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) -- to convince them to join forces and defeat Bowser. The only catch is that Mario must first defeat Cranky's huge gorilla son, Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), in combat. Cue the presumed game callbacks then and later, with lots of action and bits of comedy thrown in.

Although the offering is definitely better than its live-action predecessor (and likely any cinematic adaptations that could be made from Asteroids, Space Invaders, and so on), and while I can't say I was ever bored, there's just not enough present to make much of this memorable for more than a few hours after seeing it. That is, unless your formative years involved the game in which case I imagine you'll enjoy the heck out of it. "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Posted April 5, 2023

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