Did you know that before this year’s Mario movie took the world by storm, there were actually two other (incredibly weird) Mario movies?
Well, read on, and I’ll tell you how they hold up against the latest (and potentially greatest) flick…
3. Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission To Rescue Princess Peach!
1986, Directed By Masami Hata
Chances are you didn’t think there were two Mario movies, let alone three! Well, there are, so buckle in for a trip down pop-culture obscurity. Restored to glorious 4K by dedicated fans on YouTube, this bizarre piece of Nintendo history was seemingly trapped in Japan until rescued and restored for all to witness.
The film follows the two Mario Brothers on their “great mission” to rescue Princess Peach, led by an odd-looking blue dog that is quite clearly voiced by a person doing a very weird dog impression. Mario leads this quest, driven by love for the Princess (who he has met for about a grand total of 2 minutes prior), and Luigi follows, driven by the promise of treasure and riches in his iconic blue and yellow (?) uniform.
The film is bloody strange, that was my main takeaway from it. The two brothers travel across various lands and meet various strange creatures, from a series of giant talking chicks (that were ridiculously cute) to a field of deadly flowers that eat those who enter.
The plot and most of the character interactions make zero sense, although watching these goofy guys plod along a mysterious and wonderfully animated world has its charms. There are colors and imagination aplenty in the visuals, and if the same love and care had been put into the story, perhaps it would’ve been a bit higher on this list.
Still, I don’t regret watching it, and it should provide a decent hour of entertainment for any hardcore Mario fans out there, especially in seeing the pixelated worlds of the original game envisioned in an animated style. Also, the little pop-rock songs spread throughout the film are a blast, I love them.
Highlight Of The Film: Those pop-rock songs. Seriously, they’re fun!
2. Super Mario Bros.
1993, Directed By Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel
Good god, where to begin with this one? Upon release, this film was infamous for being one of the worst films ever made. Still, as time has gone on, a cult following has grown for the film, and people have grown to appreciate it more for the obscure and entirely bizarre piece of entertainment it is; a group of fans even restored the movie and made an extended cut! (On a side note, what is it with obscure Mario movies having dedicated fan restorations?)
So, how does the film actually hold up? Well, uh, surprisingly well… It’s a very bizarre film to try and critique, as the story is downright nonsensical in its execution, it is pretty much an entirely unfaithful adaption of the game, and the tone is absolutely all over the place, and yet, there’s something so entirely charming about a Sci-Fi dystopian take on the Mario Bros. universe. Yeah, you read that right: dystopian.
The film reimagines the mushroom kingdom as some Blade Runner meets Mad Max hellscape of a city, with grey, tall, and metallic buildings in the sightlines and cars rigged with spikes and flamethrowers charging around left, right, and centre. However, that brings me to one of the most impressive aspects of the film: its production design.
As with a lot of these weird blockbusters from the 90s, painstaking effort has been taken to build this world. The sets and props feel lived-in and real, which feels so bizarre to say about this film, but it’s true. The streets are grimy and filthy, the clubs are lit up by projections of strange imagery, and the Goomba’s uniforms (that’s right, they have uniforms) hold the correct level of fascist imagery. It’s insane but weirdly, it just works.
Enough about the behind-the-scenes tidbits and the world, though: what about the characters we all know and love? Well, Bob Hoskins’ portrayal of Mario is perfect. Seriously, he may hate the movie, but I thought he was fab in it all the same, adding a boisterously charming and comedic level of Brooklyn charm. The same can’t be said for Leguizamo’s Luigi, who’s… alright? He just comes off as a bit odd, which may have been the point, but he just isn’t on the same level of entertainment here as Hoskins is.
The rest of the cast can’t really keep up with Hoskin’s either. Mathis’ Princess Daisy is essentially Princess Peach but redesigned as Luigi’s love interest as she’s too young for Mario, and Hopper’s Bowser, while entertaining to see as a camp and overexaggerated dictator, just doesn’t get enough time to shine. Plus, no one came here to see Bowser as a normal guy in a suit, and we only get to see his true form for about three seconds, which sucks.
Still, for all my grumbling, the film is entertaining; it’s in that weird niche of so bad it’s good, whilst genuinely being quite good in places. If it was a bit tighter and more focused, who knows, maybe it would’ve been a good film! Or, alternatively, it could’ve sucked all the fun out of it and made it a whole lot worse…
Highlight Of The Film: Bob Hoskin’s Mario. Seriously, he was born for the role.
1. The Super Mario Bros. Movie
2023, Directed By Aaron Horvath & Michael Jelenic
Let’s get this out of the way right now: this movie blows the other two out of the water and into the bloody sun. It’s far more entertaining, far more faithful and proud of its videogame roots, and there is just a general sense that far more love went into this film from everyone involved.
I’d argue the two most impressive aspects of the film are its gorgeous visuals and world-building. The film is so wonderfully creative in its presentation. It merges visual elements from the games to create a cohesive world that feels at both times unique and like Mario. The action scenes are also fantastic, utilising creative camerawork to ensure they’re incredibly exciting.
As for the worldbuilding, the way the movie borrows aspects of Mario lore from across the franchise to create one cohesive universe is honestly brilliant. The idea of there being a Donkey Kong kingdom, of Bowser’s castle being a 24/7 concert, of Shy Guys being bounty hunters, it’s all sick and badass and intensely creative in giving the fans what they want while still making sense.
The cast also does a cracking job, with Pratt playing a serviceable Mario, and Day an absolutely fantastic Luigi. Seth Rogan’s Donkey Kong is so ridiculous he works, and Anya Taylor-Joy owns the role of Peach entirely, working towards the modern reinvention of the character positively. Of course, a shoutout has to go to Jack Black as Bowser, as Jack Black is always excellent. Always.
It’s not perfect, though, and the main reason for this is quite simple: the pacing. The film is so ridiculously fast-paced that the plot and awesome worlds barely get any time to cook, leaving the overall narrative feeling and bit underwhelming and undeserved, despite leaving me with a beaming smile on my face.
However, given the incredible mixed quality of the other two films, I’m just happy this one exists, and the Mario fan in me was left more than satisfied as the credits rolled.
Highlight Of The Film: The absolutely awesome worldbuilding, I can’t wait to see more of the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond.