I have loved a lot of the anarchic and ever-so-colorful animation to come out of Illumination, Universal’s cartoonworks of choice.
Have I mentioned how much I adored the anarchy of “Minion: The Rise of Gru” last year? Unadulterated Tex Avery-era Looney Tunes, that one.
But as I sat, slack-jawed and bleary-eyed, taking in all that comprises the latest scripted-for-the-screen incarnation of the mostly-plotless video game, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” I had just one question.
“Why does this exist?” I mean, aside from naked cashing in on a legendary video game brand?
The animated characters have a plush toy quality, but this is candy-colored cardboard, and by cardboard I mean crap or at least something akin to rice cakes in taste delight and nutritional value.
Maybe the funniest thing about it is Universal sending out a note to critics warning us off “spoilers” about “the plot.” Those jokers. If there’s a “plot” in Matthew Fogler’s screenplay, it’s only in the broadest, first-attempts-in-ancient-Greece sense.
But I’m not going to pick on Fogler, who shouldn’t be highlighting this on his resume, even when tens of millions of tickets are sold. Getting a “story” out of that particular video game was nigh on impossible.
Two plumbers, trapped in a two-dimensional parkour chase through a video gamescape filled with ladders, culverts, barrels to hurdle, coins, “power ups” to grab, and a spiked-shell turtle named Bowser and a gorilla named Donkey Kong to contend with?
Oh, there’s also a princess, you say?
Whatever your affection for the game, it’s never been surprising that “mushrooms” play a key role in all of this. Cough cough.
What Fogler came up with was these two Italian-American Brooklyn siblings, voiced by Chris Pratt and Charlie Day, struggling to get their Super Mario Bros. plumbing service up and running, only to be sucked into an underworld/netherworld gamescape where a Princess (Anya Taylor-Joy, not that you’d know it) is being menaced by the turtle tyrant Bowser and his shell-shielded minions.
The brothers are separated. One will need the help of the gorilla. And that torturing toirtoise Bowser? He’s so bent on total domination and heartsick in love that he starts singing and playing power ballads, which is the only way we figure out “Oh, that’s the voice JACK BLACK.”
A word about voice casting. I couldn’t pick Chris Pratt’s colorless tones out of a line-up that included Aussie Chris Hemsworth and more interesting actors Chris Evans and Chris Pine. Day has mellowed out of his fingernails-on-a-chalkboard tones, and mores the pity, here.
Taylor-Joy could literally have been anybody without us seeing her trademark anime eyes and dainty chin. And you kind of hear who’s voicing Donkey Kong before he breaks out the stoner laugh that made that actor and voice actor famous.
J. Black belting love songs is always a laugh. But otherwise, they spent money on “names” that add nothing to the movie.
An Italian-American “Atsa my spaghetti!” dinner scene almost amuses. And you don’t have to have any experience of the game to get a kick out of what they do to make the generic star-prize-token “Lumalee” into a character of relentlessly cheerful gloom.
“The only hope is the sweet release of death!”
The few laughs kind of die of loneliness, in what is allegedly a children’s animated comedy. And without laughs, all this ill-conceived animated replacement for one of the most infamous live-action flops of the ’90s has to offer is nostalgia for a simple game of a simpler time.
The eight-and-unders this is aimed at are way too young to get that.
Rating: PG, the odd rude moment or remark
Cast: The voices of Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen and Jack Black
Credits: Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, scripted by Matthew Fogler. An Illumination/Universal release.
Running time: 1:32
My God, some of you “professional” critics should be utterly ashamed of youseelves.
You are so far out of touch with reality that it’s just sad at this point.
When lots of critics are saying the same thing, perhaps instead of merely taking it personally you should consider your “taste” apparently low standards. Even those who endorsed this puerile piffle mostly admitted it’s puerile piffle suitable for pre schoolers and pretty thin on anything that would keep them distracted. And yet here you are, an alleged adult, getting your dander up over it.