Ever wondered what a dystopian Sci-Fi Super Mario movie with dinosaurs, flamethrowers, and strippers would look like? Look no further than the 1993 flick, Super Mario Bros…
The Video Game Curse?
Super Mario is one of the most popular video game franchises on the planet. Known for its bright and cheery tone, colorful characters and a grand sense of adventure, it’s no surprise that the series is getting an animated feature release this year for families everywhere to enjoy. However, if you believe that this is the first-ever adaption of everyone’s favorite Italian plumber, you’d be sorely mistaken…
In the year of our lord 1993, helmed by directorial duo Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, our screens were graced with the absolutely unhinged live-action ‘adaption’ (and I use that word in the loosest of terms) of the video games under the guise of Super Mario Bros. Generally considered one of the worst films of all time by both fans and critics alike, the film has been more or less thrown under the rug. However, given that we are getting a brand new film this year, I thought it may finally be time to lift that rug and see what all of the fuss was about; boy was it worth it…
New Super Mario Brothers
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: I really enjoyed this film. Is it amazing? No, not really, and I can certainly see why it didn’t see any awards, but in an age where, despite a few glowing standouts, blockbusters lack more visual ingenuity with every release, the film’s madcap visual style and gloriously entertaining practical effects were a joy to behold.
The titular duo is played by Bob Hoskins (Mario) and John Leguizamo (Luigi) respectively, with an adorable level of campy charm. Hoskin’s Mario is the brash, confident but caring older brother to Leguizamo’s more absent-minded but equally kind-hearted Luigi. The relationship between the two is entertaining to behold, with their brotherly banter always putting a smile on my face, granting the characters a surprising emotional weight, even if the film elects to do nothing with it.
Interestingly, Peach is absent in this adventure, with Daisy (who is a university student turned interdimensional freedom fighter…) taking the starring ‘princess’ role as Luigi’s love interest instead, which I found a nice change of pace, especially with how Mario elects to embarrass the couple in classic older brother fashion. Mario does still have a love interest in the form of his girlfriend, Daniella, who lacks any video game origin, but she sparks a striking resemblance to Pauline, Mario’s video game girlfriend before Peach.
Now, the actual Mushroom Kingdom is, interestingly, nowhere to be seen in the film. The brother’s themselves live in Brooklyn, New York, and there is nothing particularly odd or different about it. When they travel through an interdimensional portal to save Princess Daisy, on the other hand, is where things get a little weirder…
You see, in place of the Mushroom Kingdom is a dystopian sci-fi city, with nutjob residents in leather garb, flaming cars and… strip clubs? Yes, in a Super Mario Bros. movie, there are strip clubs. It’s hilarious. The whole city is brought to life with a wonderful sense of practicality. Seriously, the production design in this film is amazing, everything feels so alive, even if it ultimately feels nothing like Mario. However, if you simply consider this a reimagining, as opposed to a straight-up adaption, then I’d say bizarre differences like these could be ignored!
Of course, the iconic Bowser is certainly present, in the form of a cruel dictator who runs this fascist world, kidnapping Daisy with the goal of using her magic crystal power (yep just run with it) to merge his world with ours, and allow dinosaurs to once again run supreme. That’s right, I said dinosaurs. No Koopas are present in this universe, as Bowser and the Goombas are nothing more than mutated dinosaur/human hybrids (the goombas especially are a brilliant use of practical effects). As for Yoshi? He is a small baby raptor that looks ripped straight out of Jurassic Park, without a hint of irony. I honestly admire the balls it would take to make creative decisions like this.
Defending The Indefensible
So now that you have all the crazy details, I’m sure you’re wondering: how does the film hold up? My answer is, actually, remarkably well. Now, the film is universally considered to be one of the worst films of all time, with a stinking 29% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and a delightfully cruel 2/5 star average rating on Letterboxd. You know what, though? I think it’s a good film. I really do.
We are in an age of Blockbuster where practical effects can be scarce, and so seeing this bizarre rendition of the Super Mario Universe brought to life with an immense level of practicality brings with it an immediate charm, from the little Bob-Omb that had branded sneakers, to the Mad Max-esque police cars that destroy all in their path, from the neon-lit city streets to the hilariously small-headed goombas that patrol them, everything looks perfect.
Things may not be perfect in terms of what any of these characters and locations should actually look like, but that’s the fun of it: now that we have a more faithful Mario movie coming out, we can look back on this for what it was: a charming and hilariously fun reimagining of the Mario franchise for the silver screen, that I hope many of you will watch after reading this (for my UK readers, it is currently available on Amazon Prime!). Before I love you and leave you, I’ll leave you with a fun little photo gallery of some shots from the film, taken from the recently restored original 4K print of the film: