Super Mario Bros., the 1993 live-action adaptation of the popular Nintendo video game series of the same name, is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. Thirty years later, Hollywood and Nintendo are back with another attempt to capture that Mario magic and translate it to the big screen, this time in an animated feature film, The Super Mario Bros. Movie. 

 

The new film is definitely an improvement, not least because animation—from Illumination, the studio behind the Minions—is a better environment for Mario’s side-scrolling action and fantastical realms, and because it is unapologetically For Kids, with only a few nostalgic hooks thrown out for the parents in the audience, and the diehard gamers who show up thinking they’re going to get something rewarding from The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Spoiler alert: they won’t.

Chris Pratt voices Mario, and honestly, his Mario voice isn’t horrible. He sports a Brooklyn-lite accent that mostly works, and he hits Mario’s “waa-hoo” catchphrase smoothly enough you almost don’t realize how stupid it sounds in a narrative context. Mario’s voice in the games, provided by Charles Martinet, who has a distinctive cameo in the film, is basically just a sound effect, but when his game lines are spoken as real dialogue, woof, it lands like bricks. The vocal performances are mostly indifferent—Anya Taylor-Joy does nothing interesting as Princess Peach and Charlie Day is underutilized as Luigi—but Seth Rogen’s laugh is perfect for Donkey Kong, and Jack Black is outstanding as Bowser, though we expect nothing less. Black knows how to deliver in films like this. 

 

As an adult with no kids, Mario is painful, with only three things to recommend it. One is its 92-minute runtime, a blessed relief. Another is Brian Tyler’s score, remixing Koji Kondo’s game themes into fun orchestral arrangements. And the last is Lumalee, a blue-green glowing thing that looks like a baby nightlight cursed to live a horrifying, Frankensteinian existence. In the games, Lumalee is a shop bop, a cutesy NPC that can spit out powerups if fed enough stars. In the film, Lumalee is a broken, twisted thing, a pathetic creature singing its nihilism into the void and hearing only its own, undying echo of misery and despair. Voiced to perfection by Juliet Jelenic, daughter of co-director Michael Jelenic, Lumalee is the only genuinely funny joke in the film, every time it showed up it garnered a genuine laugh.

 

If you are a parent of young children, though, Mario will likely hit the spot after a months-long drought of kids’ movies in theaters. Mario is dumb, but it’s bright and fast and loud, all things kids enjoy in movies, and Lumalee aside, the humor is mostly pratfall gags and cheap shots at Mario for being so short, easy stuff for kids to grasp. 

There’s nothing wrong with making a colorful animated film for kids, though they absolutely can handle more sophistication than Mario offers, just don’t expect it to play like a Pixar movie, or even one of the Kung Fu Panda films, which are generally more enjoyable for the adults in the room. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is lightweight entertainment, meant to keep kids mostly still in their seats while facing in one direction for 90 minutes. On that front, it succeeds. As something an adult would voluntarily choose to watch, it is less successful. If you are a parent or guardian dragged to see it, be like Lumalee and abandon yourself to a nightmarish experience.

 

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is exclusively in theaters from April 5, 2023.