Super Mario Bros. is FUN! (And That's Okay)
This Ain't No Game, But It's Based on One!
Well, it happened. They finally made a Super Mario Bros. movie that isn’t bad. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But honestly, it didn’t have to be. This was a children's movie in every sense, and as far as I can tell it achieved exactly what it was aiming for.
I went to see the movie on opening day with my wife, my 6 year old daughter, and my 9 year old son. Those two kids are who this movie was aimed at, and boy did it resonate with them. Of course, they grew up in my house, and as such are more than slightly familiar with Mario games. My son even recognized Foreman Spike’s Wrecking Crew hat reference. But the references weren’t all that made this movie a success for them.
When I think back to taking my kids to see Sonic 2, I remember the anxiety of having them in the theater and getting bored. This happens to me all the time when I go see superhero movies and people bring their kids. As soon as things get too “talky” some kid is going to start wandering around because they’re bored. Super Mario Bros. didn’t have that problem. Both of my kids, and as far as I could tell every other kid in the theater was into it the whole dang time. The movie flies by at a brisk pace, and while I would never want every kids movie to be this way, I love that some still are. It’s only an hour and a half long, and it never spends more than the absolute minimum necessary amount of time on anything that isn’t some sort of fun, colorful spectacle. This is a shallow movie, but that's not a bad thing.
The Dark World
Of course, if the general criticism of this movie is to be believed, there’s no room in the world for fluff like this, which I think is insane. Junk food is fun, and sometimes it’s okay to let your kids occasionally skip eating their vegetables in favor of giving them a memorable experience. But really, some of the criticisms out there have left me scratching my head.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was positively dumbfounded by a movie reviewer proclaiming that they had never even heard of Tetris before watching the Tetris movie. I struggle to imagine how that’s even possible, but it stood as a stark reminder that the older generation out there still looks down their noses at video games as a medium, and the sheer quantity of people tearing this movie apart not only for not being something deeper, but for also having the audacity of actually adapting the video game source material, is disappointing.
I didn’t love the Sonic movies. I didn’t hate them either, but I had a really hard time with them because they put so much effort into very specifically NOT making them based on the video games. We start in the fantastic Green Hill Zone with gorgeous art direction and creative environments, Hyper Potions music is blaring in the background, and then boom. We’re in Seattle. Who needs the whimsy that gives Sonic games their charm, right? But clearly this was the direction that movie executives think is necessary, and who’s to argue, right? Both of those films were big successes. But then the Mario movie rolls around, wearing its video game influence proudly, and I can’t help but think of how much more amazing Sonic would have been had they been brave enough to just trust that the reason someone would want to see these movies would be to see the things they like about the video games adapted into a story on the big screen.
It's Fun When It's Fun
Audiences are clearly loving The Super Mario Bros. movie overall. Yes, it’s full of references, but they don’t play like a checklist, and they’re not shoved in your face. If you know, you know. If you don’t, they just blow right by.
So when I read criticisms chock full of asinine statements like “it has all the fun of an unplugged Game Boy” I can't help but wonder who in their right mind decided these people should be reviewing this movie. (Game Boys run on batteries, for crying out loud!) I can’t shake the feeling that so many of these lines were cooked up before their writers had even seen the movie. I have no proof of this, but It smells like minds were made up ahead of time, and then they wrote their reviews around these preconceived notions once they saw the film and were able to fill in the details. Negativity sells, after all.
I swear I saw a headline somewhere (I can’t find it now) where the review claimed this was now the second best Mario movie, and I’m sorry but anyone unironically claiming that this new film is somehow a worse movie than the 1993 debacle is not a serious person. Either they haven’t seen that movie since 1993, or they had their mind made up ahead of time, and this is coming from someone who can genuinely enjoy the live action adaptation. That movie is a mess. In nearly every measurable metric, it’s just not a good movie. The Super Mario Bros. Movie, on the other hand, made sense. It was coherent, fun, and actually adapted the source material.
What I’m getting at here is that it really is okay to have fun, and I want so very badly for more voices online to understand that. I know negativity is what gets clicks, just look at how the Star Wars fandom loves to rip itself apart. Or how DC fans gleefully revel in anything that could be even remotely perceived as a Marvel movie or TV show failing. This stuff is supposed to be fun, right? I’m not suggesting that critics not look at these things critically, but when something is so obviously intended to be light fluffy fun, why not judge it on those merits? I’m not mad at my ice cream sundae for not being as filling as a steak dinner any more than I’m mad at The Fast and the Furious movies for not being Lord of the Rings.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie made me smile for 90 minutes straight. My kids eyes were filled with wonder, and we talked about our various favorite moments on the whole car ride home. The entire theater laughed at the funny bits, and cheered when it was over. Sometimes, fun for fun’s sake is enough. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is something special, and I’ll remember the fun I had watching it with my family for the rest of my life.