In a now-famous article on Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers), journalist Tom Junod recalls when Mr. Rogers asked him whether he had any special friends growing up. By “special friends,” Mr. Rogers didn’t mean any person – he meant, like, a stuffed animal, or a blanket or something. Mr. Rogers thought that special friends like this could be very important. And Junod did have a special friend – a stuffed bunny. And, indeed, it was very important.
I had a special friend growing up. It was Super Mario. I don’t know if Mr. Rogers would count that, but I do. My first encounter with my special friend was in Super Mario Bros. on the original Nintendo system. I soon met him again in Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3 (3 was my favorite). Then I played more games with Mario on Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube, the Wii and now, the Nintendo Switch. We’ve had a long and fulfilling relationship, Mario and me.
So, when I heard that they were coming out with a new movie featuring my special friend, I was excited. And nervous. “This better not disappoint,” I thought.
Mario is voiced by Chris Pratt, Luigi by Charlie Day – real favorites of mine. So that’s a good start. In the movie, Mario and Luigi have just started a new plumbing business and are aching for new customers. Mario is great at what he does, but too ambitious and devil may care. Luigi is cautious – too cautious, probably – and also sort of inept. They’re a perfect pair. And, at any rate, they’re inseparable.
Mario and Luigi are normal plumbers living in New York City – they don’t fight crime or interact with any power stars, flying turtles or princesses. But that all changes when they go to a big, dangerous job one day. They get sucked into a pipe and find themselves in the world – the place where I so often met my special friend.
They don’t end up in the exact same place, though. While Mario is transported to the relatively innocuous Mushroom Kingdom – except for the fact that it is full of mushrooms and Mario, ironically, really doesn’t like mushrooms – Luigi is put right on the doorstep of none other than Bowser (Jack Black). Luigi gets captured immediately, and Mario sets off to save him. I guess Bowser is being a meanie because he wants to marry Peach, but she isn’t having it and joins the fight.
Think of the rest of the movie like a big montage of Mario-themed diversions – adventures with Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), run-ins with Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan), flirtatious floundering with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and so on. The filmmakers’ concern, it seems, was not so much with drawing out a sustained and interesting melody but in striking individual notes that we, like Pavlov’s dog, have been trained to associate with the Super Mario Bros.
In other words, forget plot – which desperately wanted for an even modest creativity power up. Instead, bask in a parade of scenes that invoke various tidbits from the vast Mario corpus. Karts, cat suits, koopas and more – the whole shebang.
Confession: I don’t like parades. I want to like them, I get why people like them, and I’m even glad they happen – they’re so festive – but ask me to stand in a crowd for a couple of hours just to watch some bright things go by… No thanks, I’m all good.
I’m guess I’m similarly glad that “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” happened – my kids liked it, I get why others might like it, and, hey, I’m happy to bathe in nostalgia for a bit. So, was I horribly disappointed by it, as I had worried? No.
But ask me to do it again… No thanks, I’m all good.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is rated PG for action and mild violence.
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