(from left) Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Mario (Chris Pratt) in Nintendo and Illumination's "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic. (Image: Universal Pictures)

Those Gen-Z brothers from Brooklyn, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day), plumbers in this world, superheroes in the Mushroom Kingdom, star in their own big screen adaptation, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies”) which will appeal most to fans of the video games and young kids. The animation is so true to the Nintendo franchise that you may feel lost without a controller, and for the grownups, the soundtrack features AC/DC, a-ha, Bonnie Tyler, and of course Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.”

What about the accents? When the film’s trailer arrived, fans were concerned with Chris Pratt’s casting as Mario, who up until this point was known for saying “Mama mia!” and “It’s-a-me, Mario!” in a heavy Italian accent. Good news. The brothers’ accents are there (kind of), at least for their television commercial as they try and attract customers by using exaggerated accents to highlight their heritage. FYI: It’s not working. So, Pratt and Charlie Day’s Luigi speak in their regular voices in the film. Perfect casting as far as Day is concerned.

While trying to repair a broken water main in the city, the brothers are sucked into a pipe that jettisons them into an alternate universe. Mario lands in the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom, filled with colorful pipes, golden power-up blocks, floating brown bricks, and human-mushroom hybrid citizens called toads, their unofficial leader, also named Toad is voiced by Keegan-Michael Key. However, the kingdom is ruled by the very human Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) who lives in a Disney-like castle.

Meanwhile, Luigi ends up in the scary Dark Lands which gamers will associate with “Luigi’s Mansion,” the video game that helped launch the GameCube in 2001. Luigi gets captured and is held prisoner by the film’s villain Bowser, a fierce Godzilla-like turtle with fire-breathing capability who intends to destroy the Mushroom Kingdom unless Princess Peach agrees to become his bride. Jack Black gives 110% in a vocal performance that includes hammy songs written by Bowser to woo the princess. The actor-comedian’s personality comes blazing through as the leader of the Koopas.

As news of Bowser’s imminent attack reaches Peach, she and Mario enlist the help of the Kongs ruled by Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) who agrees to lend his army to the cause if Mario can defeat his son Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan) in a battle. Rogan, by far delivers the funniest vocal performance and the battle scene with Mario is one of the best moments in the animated film as Mario becomes Cat Mario (a power-up that gives our hero cat-like reflexes plus he looks adorable in what looks like kitty pajamas).

The film’s best scene is the exciting “Mad Max” race sequence straight from the Mario Kart games as the characters race in customized souped-up go-carts which will have you scrambling for a controller. It feels like you’ve rented out the theater to play the game.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is primarily for fans of the Nintendo games or young children who may become new fans of the franchise. It’s a safe family film with nothing risqué (no adult humor) or too violent. If you’re not familiar with video games, there’s little here that will spark your interest. Older moviegoers may compare it to the 1993 live-action film “Super Mario Bros.” which stars Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi. It’s cheesy, over the top, and many fans of the games consider it an abomination. I enjoyed it in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way plus Dennis Hopper’s outrageous performance is entertaining. Still, it had little to do with the franchise created by Japanese game designer Shigeru Miyamoto.

(3 stars)

Now showing in theatres

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.