×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie: 6 Things We Want To See (And 6 We Don't)

"The Super Mario Bros. Movie" has become one of the most anticipated films of 2023, especially among fans of Illumination's animated movies and Nintendo's beloved characters. At the same time, there's a lot of concern that it may not live up to its potential. Since it's adapting the most popular video game franchise of all time, it makes sense that fans are somewhat divided on how they feel about the film. Much has been made of how little Chris Pratt seems to have adjusted his voice for the role of Mario, and of course, Illumination's somewhat spotty track record in recent years doesn't do much to alleviate the concern.

Fortunately, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about "The Super Mario Bros. Movie." Nintendo has been heavily involved in the creative process from the start, likely to avoid another disaster like the 1993 live-action adaptation. And the first teaser trailer for the animated movie shows many elements of the games — from Bowser's fire breath to the Mushroom Kingdom itself — recreated with impressive production values and a lot of loyalty to the source material. 

Even still, we won't know if the movie will be worth the wait. It certainly has a lot of unique opportunities to break the bad video game movie curse, but it could just as easily fall into the same trap that so many previous game adaptation have. With that in mind, here are some things we want to see in "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," and some things that should definitely be left out.

DO: Lots of familiar faces

Long before the first trailer dropped, fans knew that "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" would feature plenty of familiar faces from the video games. Mario (Chris Pratt), Luigi (Charlie Day), Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), and Bowser (Jack Black) were all confirmed early on by Nintendo, and those are enough core characters to fill out most of the movie. But there's always room for more!

From the smallest member of the Kong clan to big King Boo, there's a nearly endless supply of beloved side characters who could also show up in one way or another on the big screen. Not all of them need to appear in the movie, and none of them need to have especially large roles, but there should be plenty of chances to work them into crowded backgrounds or one-off scenes. Princess Peach's castle should be full of Toadettes, Yoshis, and other Mushroom Kingdom denizens, and Bowser's fiery fortresses should be guarded by Bob-ombs and Goombas of all sizes.

Of course, there could also be some more major "Mario" characters already in the film who've yet to be revealed. The Koopa Kids seem likely given the imposing nature of Bowser's cinematic army, while heroines like Princesses Daisy and Rosalina could pop up. The troublesome duo of Wario and Waluigi are strong bets as well, though they might be better off in a post-credits scene. Only time will tell!

DON'T: Tons of new characters

Regardless of which characters Illumination and Nintendo decide to include in "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," they should be fun for fans to see. The big mistake would be to leave out a popular character or two in favor of all-new original characters — a habit that a number of past video game adaptations have embraced.

The decision to create original characters isn't always a bad one. Despite confusing viewers a bit at first, Lewis Tan's Cole Young character in 2021's "Mortal Kombat" provided an effective audience surrogate through which to explain the rules of the universe. The human characters in the live-action "Sonic the Hedgehog" films have received some praise as well. However, this approach might not be such a good idea for the "Mario" movie.

For starters, the film's first teaser trailer revealed that Mario will be transported to the Mushroom Kingdom at the start of the film. That seemingly means that he'll serve as the audience surrogate, removing the need for an original character in the role. Additionally, since "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is fully animated, it's no easier to add an original character than it is to bring in someone from the franchise's past. With the wealth of familiar faces available to Illumination, there's no real reason to take up screen time with characters that fans don't know.

DO: Power-ups

It's no secret that Mario isn't actually that super on his own. With only a couple buttons to work with back in the day, his main talents have always been running and jumping. For crying out loud, his name was Jumpman before it was Mario (or is that Mario's father?). The things that make Mario truly "super" are his power-ups, and the movie needs to respect that fact by including as many of them as possible.

We're bound to see fire flowers and 1-Ups, but it would also be fun to see some of the more extraneous power-ups from throughout the "Mario" mythos. Ice flowers, mega-mushrooms, bee mushrooms, cat bells — those are the kinds of deep cuts that would be super fun for fans to see, even if only for one-off bits. Can we see Luigi get turned into a bouncy spring? Can we get Boo Mario spookily bopping along through a haunted mansion? We can, but whether or not we will is another question.

There will surely be a good bit of action in "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," and those scenes are the most obvious ones to feature some classic power-ups. But if the film can also incorporate Mario's beloved abilities into other moments — comedic gags, puzzle solving, exploration, etc. — it'll only be stronger for it. If this plumber doesn't get a tanooki suit or fly with a yellow cape, Illumination will have arguably squandered some big potential.

DON'T: Cringe comedy

One of the bigger concerns folks have had about "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is that it could be plagued by the animated family film trend of truly bad jokes. Be it a bizarre Chris Pine reference in the Disney+ original "Pinocchio" or Sir Patrick Stewart voicing the poop emoji in "The Emoji Movie," the realm of modern kid-friendly animation is no stranger to cheap and lazy comedy. Illumination's infamous Minions aren't exactly known for high-brow antics either, usually sticking to the realms of butt tattoos, fart jokes, and saying "banana" in a funny voice.

No shade on the Minions, of course. There can be a time and place for potty humor and pop culture references. But that time and place is probably not the Mushroom Kingdom in 2023. Outside of cartoons, Mario and his pals have never really spoken as much as they will in "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," and that change will necessitate some adjustments in comedic stylings. Still, that doesn't give the studio license to inject a bunch of celebrity jokes into the "Mario" world.

Fortunately, the video games have left some blueprints for approaching the Mushroom Kingdom from a comedic angle. The "Paper Mario" series is particularly well known for its comical writing, which has poked fun at everything from Mario's small vocabulary to the ineffectual combat strategies of Koopa Troopas (via The Escapist). If the new film can strike a similar balance between comedy and reverence, it'll be off to a great start.

DO: Classic Mario levels

The world of "Super Mario Bros." should be a dream setting for an animation team — not just because of its naturally whimsical nature, but because of the many different kinds of locations that make it up. From grassy plains and underground sewers to haunted mansions and icy castles, nearly every kind of setting you could imagine has shown up in one "Mario" game or another. As such, it would behoove "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" to pull from that legacy as much as possible.

That doesn't just mean some clever world map jokes and a fiery castle run, though. Rather, this is an opportunity to load the movie with visual diversity while also paying tribute to the franchise's past. The film could even take some specific level designs from the video games, depending on how detailed the studio wants to get. The very first "Mario" level, World 1-1, seems like a good choice, especially given how many times it's been mimicked in different games and media over the years (as noted by 1UP).

If the first teaser trailer for "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is any indication, Illumination is already on the right track in this regard. We've already seen penguin-filled ice castles, spooky manors filled with Dry Bones, Bowser's flying fortress, and the physics-defying landscape of the flowering Mushroom Kingdom itself, among many other small details. Hopefully, that's just the start.

DON'T: The love triangle

There's always been some weird business between Mario, Bowser, and Princess Peach. Everyone who's played the games is aware of it. Mario's frequent ventures to rescue Peach from Bowser's clutches have frequently hinted at a romance between the two, but little has ever come of it. At the same time, there have been heavy suggestions that Bowser's repeated kidnappings are the result of his own affection for the Princess. It's a weird love triangle mostly comprised of wink-and-nod moments (per God Is A Geek), like when Peach rejects both suitors at the end of "Super Mario Odyssey." However, because the games feature so little dialogue, and because they're so cartoonish, the love triangle has never felt too intrusive.

Bringing all that baggage into a big-budget animated feature, however, could be a big mistake. Navigating Bowser's "I love you, so I'll kidnap you" complex in a way that's funny and not creepy is a task in itself, and Mario's likely to have enough going on already without dealing with a shoehorned love story. Plus, it seems pretty unlikely that the movie will center around Peach being abducted anyway. In the trailer footage, Bowser appears to only be interested in Power Stars and general conquest. Hopefully, that means that Peach will have a bit more of an active role than she typically has in the games.

In short, the Mario/Peach/Bowser love triangle just seems like a bad fit for the story this film is trying to tell.

DO: Nods to the spin-off games

While Mario may be best known for his mainline games — acclaimed entries like "Super Mario World," "Super Mario 64," and "Super Mario Odyssey — they're far from his only interactive outings. Over the decades since his debut, the red-capped plumber and friends have also starred in a bevy of spin-off titles, such as the wildly popular "Mario Kart" racing game series and sports games like "Super Mario Baseball." Heck, there was a Famicom Disk game in which Mario taught players to knit! If Illumination and Nintendo really want to embrace the full "Mario" legacy, they should be incorporating elements from these games as well (okay, maybe not the knitting). 

Be it a high-octane racing sequence complete with banana peels and flying blue shells or a rousing game of tennis between Bowser and Princess Peach, there are tons of opportunities to bring in elements from the spin-off games. Maybe Mario gets squished super thin à la the "Paper Mario" games. Maybe he and Luigi get to play a board game in homage to "Mario Party." Whatever it is, these are the kind of deeper cuts that show loyalty to the franchise and reward longtime fans.

DON'T: Breaking the fourth wall

When you're adapting a cartoonish video game franchise like "Super Mario," a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek humor is inevitable. From the infamous first-person action sequence in the "Doom" movie to the "Jill's sandwich" joke in "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City," video game adaptations have long been filled with egregious nods to their real-world counterparts. Sometimes this can work, but other times, this kind of humor can break the fourth wall in a distracting way.

It would be easy for "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" to make some jokes about Mario being "controlled" by an unseen force, or about his many extra lives. But that would also turn the film into a parody of itself. The film presumably doesn't take place inside of a metafictional video game world like "Tron" or "Wreck-It Ralph"; it takes place inside of a fantasy world. And if that fantasy world is to be taken semi0seriously by audiences, it can't kneecap itself by constantly winking at the audience about the nature of video games. If "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" wants to succeed as an original family adventure flick, then it might want to stay as far away from the "Free Guy" approach as possible.

DO: Boss fights

From the looks of things, "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" should feature a good deal of action, which makes sense when given the nature of the games. A lot of that will likely involve Mario and Luigi running from monsters, jumping over lava bits, and avoid flying spike balls, but there's another aspect of classic Mario action that can and should play a big role as well — the boss fights.

Obviously, Bowser is the biggest boss of them all, and it seems inevitable that he and Mario will face off in the film's final act. Whether that fight pulls directly from the grab-him-by-the-tail strategy of "Super Mario 64," the drop-him-into-lava method of the original "Super Mario Bros." game, or some new form, it should be fun to see. However, the film would do well to include a couple of smaller "boss fights" leading up to the big showdown with King Koopa.

Having Mario fight a Koopa Kid or some other boss midway through the film would keep things true to the games, which often feature mini-bosses halfway through and full bosses in the castle at the end. In the structure of a movie, this could also help with Mario's character development. It makes sense to give him a big fight before Bowser so he can get his battlin' legs under him. And of course, he should have to hit the boss three times to beat it. That's just science.

DON'T: Pop music

One of the most common trends of modern animated family films is the use of pop music. Be it the "Shrek" approach of playing classic rock ballads over big action scenes or the "Sing" (also from Illumination) approach of having in-universe characters perform their own versions of Top 40 hits, the radio singles are everywhere. One need only look at one of the "Despicable Me" soundtracks to see this on display.

Needless to say, employing a similar musical technique in "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" would feel wildly out of place. The "Mario" universe is its own world — one that would arguably clash immensely with the dulcet tones of Pharrell Williams or Meghan Trainor. We don't want to see Mario doing any TikTok dances, and with luck, Nintendo won't either.

Instead, "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" should pull from the extensive catalog of iconic "Mario" video game tracks. The first teaser trailer already includes a bit of this, so Illumination is off to a good start. Whatever circumstances Mario might find himself in on the big screen, odds are good there's a classic piece of game music to match. Remixes and rearrangements are fine, and maybe even necessary, but there's just no reason to drop real-world pop music into the Mushroom Kingdom when there's such a rich trove of game tunes to pull from.

DO: A sense of grandeur

Let's be real: "Super Mario" isn't exactly the most serious franchise in the world. It's not some Tolkien-esque fantasy world full of rich mythology and lore. It's a frequently silly video game series in which turtles, dinosaurs, and walking mushrooms race go-karts, play golf, fight giant squids, and occasionally go to the moon. But if "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is to succeed and spawn the film franchise it's quite capable of starting, it needs to embrace a sense of grandeur.

Even though the Mushroom Kingdom isn't exactly Middle-earth, there's a reason that gamers have been getting lost in it for decades. Nintendo has always had a knack for crafting rich, colorful, and delightful worlds, and that needs to continue on the big screen. If the "Mario" world is crafted with care and treated with fantastical awe, the audience will follow suit. And if the first teaser trailer for the film is any indication, Illumination is leaning into that.

That doesn't mean that the movie can't be silly or lighthearted — it just means that it needs to believe in itself. Finding a Yoshi egg, discovering a new kingdom, and stumbling into a creepy crawly Boo House should all be magical moments. If "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" can be a little bit more "Up" or "Finding Nemo" than "Hop," it might be on the path to success.

DON'T: Changes to the lore

But while "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" should embrace a sense of grandeur with its fantastical story and setting, it should also refrain from changing pre-established details. Clearly, it looks like there's going to be a little bit of new material in terms of how Mario and Luigi arrive in the Mushroom Kingdom, but maybe that should take a backseat once the action gets started. After that, it would be best for the film to stay true to the games, without changing up too many things.

The biggest warning sign against changing the "Mario" lore is, of course, the 1993 "Super Mario Bros." movie. In that adaptation, nearly everything is repurposed. The story plays out in a dystopian future version of New York City, where Goombas are suit-wearing lackeys and King Koopa is a sniveling businessman with a dinosaur fixation. Though the movie's catastrophic failure should have been a warning for future video game movies, many other adaptations have made similar mistakes, with recent examples including the introduction of "arcana" in 2021's "Mortal Kombat" and the big changes to Sully's backstory in the "Uncharted" movie.

Sometimes, it makes some sense to tweak game lore to help a story fit into a two-hour movie. But since "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is already embracing the franchise's more playful and fantastical elements, there's really no reason to change up too many things that fans already love.

Recommended