Super Mario Bros. The Movie

Mario Mario and Luigi Mario

            With a new animated Super Mario Bros movie spearheaded by Illumination (the studio behind Dispicable Me and the upcoming Grinch movie), it seems to be a good time to look back at the 1993 live action rendition of the world’s most famous plumbers. The film featured a respectable cast, with Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo starring as the Mario Bros, Dennis Hopper as Bowser and Samatha Mathis as Princess Daisy (a questionable choice considering Princess Peach is nowhere to be found). The movie was critically panned and today is listed on IMBD’s 100 worst films of all time, granted at the top of that list.

            Here’s the thing; The movie is hilarious. Super Mario Bros completely fails as a cinematic adaptation, but the movie is so comically poor that it is a cult classic along the lines of other disaster pieces like The Room. Super Mario Bros operates on a premise so absurd that it makes the premise of two plumbers rescuing a princess from a fire-breathing turtle seem like a  work of Shakespeare. The movie follows the titular Mario Brothers, with Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi. The plot really starts when Luigi falls in love with an attractive young woman named Daisy, who is kidnapped and dragged through a portal into another world. This is where the movie’s absurd logic starts to take center stage. According to the film, the meteorite that struck the earth 65 million years ago during the Cretaceous period did not actually wipe out the dinosaurs, rather it plunged the reptiles into a parallel dimension while the mammals were left to inherit the earth. Mario and Luigi have to navigate this parallel world in order to find Daisy and stop the evil Bowser, who instead of just wanting to kidnap the Princess seeks to combine the dimensions back together and take over the human world.

            For the sane reader, the last paragraph probably caused your brain to implode at some point, so for the meantime let us address the movie. As an adaptation, Super Mario Bros fails on every level. The plot comes off more as an insane parody of the source material rather than an adaptation, with plot elements that barely correlate to their source material. Apart from being plumbers, the bros have almost nothing in common with their video game counterparts. They only find the iconic shirt and overalls near the film’s end (and even then the colors are inverted, a detail shared by the Super Mario Bros. cartoon). The movie also abandons the happy and colorful environments of the Mushroom Kingdom for a dark, gritty cityscape environment. Outside the Bros themselves and Daisy, all of the characters are extreme abstractions of their normal appearances. Bowser is not a turtle at all, but rather a man in a suit with his hair greased into spikes to resemble the shell and horns of the Koopa King. Goombas are terrifying tiny-headed monstrosities with massive bodies, which is ironic considering the Goombas in the video games have the inverse proportions with giant heads and tiny bodies. While admittedly Yoshi is stated to be a dinosaur, the onscreen representation looks more like a rejected prop from the set of Jurassic Park, which came out the same year (and yes, this will be mentioned again).

            Mario Bros is probably the origin point for the tainted reputation of video game movies.One would assume the movie was aimed at kids who played the original Super Mario Bros on the NES and newer players of games, who by this point would be in their early twenties at the latest. This movie came out before adult gamers barely existed, because gaming culture as a whole was still new. Judging by the poor review scores similarly unimpressive returns, the film did not do well.The movie itself does not contain any references to video games apart from being a (very poor) adaptation of one. It presents a dystopic alternate universe where dinosaurs live and Bowser is portrayed as a baby-kissing politician rather than a princess-snatching turtle. One clever nod the movie does deserve some praise for is the “de-evolution gun” used by Bowser that can transform people into monkeys is actually just a painted and modified Super Nintendo Super Scope, which if nothing else is cute. The technology used in the movie was dated when it came out. Granted for 1993 they could have done worse,but the effects do not look great and were used in the wrong areas. The biggest example is depicting Bowser as a humanoid but making the Goombas and Koopa Troopas are both overdone and look ridiculous. It is unfair to compare Mario Bros to Jurassic Park due to the budget involved in each respective picture,but considering how the latter was able to make such compelling looking dinosaurs by combining animatronics and CGI, the Super Mario Bros movie could easily have used similar, if cheaper, methods to create the king of the Koopas.

The movie’s depiction of a hellspawn Goomba

            While Mario Bros is a VERY bad movie, the film is so outlandishly awful that it turns out to be hilarious. The line where a jailer asks for their names, and Mario reveals that their names are Mario Mario and Luigi Mario respectively is absolutely perfect. The movie is so absurd and so ridiculous that it is comedic gold, and Hopper in particular cares so little that his performance rivals Jeremy Irons’ role in the Dungeons and Dragons movie. Mario Brothers fails so spectacularly that it goes around to be a comedic success. However, as previously mentioned,the movie is in the company of pictures such as The Room or Birdemic. Super Mario Bros may be a great movie to watch when you and some friends want something stupid to make you laugh, but ultimately the picture is undeniably a bad film and is the origin point for the toxic reputation of video game adaptations. That reputation may change in the near future with Detective Pikachu looking to be a genuinely good film and an animated take on the Super Mario Bros on the horizon, but both of those films are benefitting from thirty plus years of gaming becoming entrenched as an entertainment medium. Would Mario Bros have been better had it come about in similar circumstances? Probably. But the fever dream of a film we got would not be the same without the weirdness that came from the late eighties to early nineties, and frankly I am thankful for the movie’s existence, if nothing else but for being an entertainingly bad failure. 

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