Mario hasn’t had the best luck with cinematic adaptations, that is until now. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is out and nabbing box office high scores. Is it worth the hype? Glen, Nathan, and Scott are here to share their thoughts on Mario’s big return to the big screen.
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As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, Nintendo has partnered with Illumination Entertainment to produce an animated movie staring everybody’s favorite Italian-American-who-looks-like-a-Mexican plumber, Mario. Of course, given how well the Big N’s last film deal turned out, many fans are understandably anxious about Mario’s return to the big screen. Personally, I don’t think we have to worry about it turning out like 1993’s live-action bomb: that film was plagued with a very troubled production and an obscene number of rewrites that ultimately eroded the quality of the end product. I even wrote an article about the original—and much more faithful—screen play over a year ago.
Confession time, boys and girls! I like the Super Mario Bros. Movie. There, I said it! I admit, it’s probably just residual nostalgia from the many times I watched it as a kid, seeing as how the movie is a horrendous adaptation of the games (which was no less obvious to four-year-old me as it is today). Even then, I think when judged on its own merits, the movie has a sort of cheesy charm: it’s a film made in the early 90s trying so hard to be a mid-to-late 80s styled action-adventure thriller. In my opinion, it works in a weird, probably unintentional way. Regardless, the film has become infamous among gamers, who deride it for—among other things—not being much like the games on which it’s, ahem, “based.”
The film has become infamous among gamers, who deride it for not being much like the games on which it’s “based.”
However, this was not always the case. The movie had a long and troubled production, mostly due to differing opinions on which direction the film should take. The end result? Many, many rewrites. Most versions of the script are more or less in the vein of the final product, a sci-fi action-adventure sort of a thing. However, there is one major exception: the first draft. Indeed, the first draft was not a sci-fi action-adventure sort of a thing, but instead a comical romp through a bizarre fantasy world. More to the point, it also included many more nods to the series on which it was, ahem, “based.” So, does accuracy to the source material make this version of the movie better? Let’s find out! Uh, I mean, “let’s-a go!”
I’m pretty sure that’s what the cool kids are saying these days…
Seeing as how it’s doubtful the average gamer knows about the many rewrites this movie went through, much less bothered to read the original script, I think it’d be a good idea to briefly go over the plot detailed in the aforementioned first script. The movie follows a pretty clear three-act structure, with the first act taking place in Brooklyn, the second in the Mushroom Kingdom, and the third being comprised of the climax and denouement, as one would expect.
Act 1: Brooklyn
The story begins much like the finished movie does: a dark and stormy night, a robed figure, an infant, and some sort of mystical artifact, in this case, a jewel encrusted locket shaped like a mushroom. In this story, however, the nun that answers the door fails to notice the locket, and it consequentially slips out of the basket and into a nearby storm drain. After leaving the child on the door step of a church, the robed figure—in this version an old man—tries to beat a hasty retreat but is blocked by the shadowy figure of the story’s villain, King Koopa. Koopa threatens the man with unimaginable suffering, and the frail old man—being quite old and frail—dies of fright.
Twenty-something years later in modern-day, early 90s Brooklyn, Mario and Luigi are doing what plumbers do: fixing pipes. Or, at least, Mario is, Luigi is daydreaming about the love of his life, a girl that works at a nearby flower shop. Mario, having been hurt by love some unspecified amount of time ago, abrasively attempts to dissuade Luigi from pursuing a relationship.
Quick aside: for maximum enjoyment, I recommend envisioning Mario being played by Bob Hoskins—like he was in the final version of the film—and Luigi being depicted by Danny Wells like he was in the Super Mario Bros. Super Show.
Anyway, Mario and Luigi aren’t exactly in the best shape financially. Mario is deep in debt to a loanshark named “Big Eddie” (pro tip: never loan money from anyone whose name starts with “big”). Further adding to their problems are the differences between each brother: Mario is all business—which is understandable given his circumstances—while Luigi is compulsively generous and prone to messing up while on the job, resulting in more work for Mario. Case in point, after leaving to fetch some tools he left in the van, Mario returns to find that Luigi has turned the pipe they were working on into something akin to a modern art piece.
Later, after fixing the pipe, Luigi heads down to the flower shop to confess his love to Hildy. Wait, Hildy? Why Hildy? I mean, at least Daisy was an established character in Mario canon (albeit an incredibly obscure one back when the movie came out). Whatever, Dai—Hildy is rebuffing the advances of some sleazy dude named Vinnie. Apparently the two went out on a date sometime ago, and Dai—Hildy gave him a black eye. Luigi enters the shop just after Hildy convinces him to leave via argumentum ad tubulum irrigandum. After wussing out of telling Hildy how he feels, an argument breaks out between Hildy and her employer: Hildy put top dollar flowers in a budget wedding bouquet because weddings should be special or something. Afterward, Luigi and Hildy make lunch plans for the next day.
So to summarize, Mario is gruff and cynical, Luigi is warm and whimsical, and Hildy is tough but sweet.
Later that night, after having dinner with his brother (and some arguing), Luigi heads out on the fire escape to look at the city lights. He starts daydreaming (nightdreaming?) about being with Hildy. His happy thoughts are soon interrupted by that most inconsiderate of bugbears, foreshadowing. He imagines Hildy being stolen away by a reptilian claw and then himself holding the locket from opening. He then wakes up in bed, which leads me to question how much of the previous scene even happened. Did Mario and Luigi even have dinner, or was that part a dream too?
The next day, Luigi bumps into some of Big Eddie’s goons. They start hassling him until Mario steps in. Mario assures Eddie and his thugs he’s got a job lined up and he’ll be able to pay them soon. Mario then heads to the City Engineer’s office. Unfortunately, the City Engineer won’t even look at Mario’s proposal for the unspecified project until Mario pays a bribe. Mario, of course, refuses to stoop to bribery. After a debate on business ethics, the meeting inevitably concludes with the defenestration of the City Engineer’s golf bag.
Afterward, Luigi is telling some of the neighborhood children a story about a fisherman who outwitted a wrathful genie by daring him to enter a bottle. Mario, already having a bad day, dismisses the tale. Luigi attempts to cheer his brother up by telling Mario he found them a (pro bono) job fixing a leak in the basement of the church from the opening. During the job, they accidentally break open a sewer pipe, out of which comes the locket. Luigi immediately recognizes it as the one from his dream, and Mario immediately recognizes it as his ticket out of debt.
The next day, an unusual fellow tells Hildy he’s a detective working for her parents, and they would like to meet her. Previously believing herself to be an orphan, Hildy readily agrees. Meanwhile, Mario meets with Big Eddie to pay off his debt using the locket. Unfortunately, Luigi switched the locket with a rock when Mario wasn’t looking, which Big Eddie doesn’t find amusing. Back in the flower shop, Luigi shows up for his lunch date only to catch the Hildy right before she leaves with the strange man. Quickly realizing something’s amiss, Luigi chases after their cab in the Mario Bros.’s van. Mario, trying to escape Big Eddie’s goons, tries to escape to the van and after a brief chase only barely manages to hop in the back. Luigi chases the cab to an alley and continues his pursuit on foot. Mario follows him and they enter an abandoned diner with a large pipe jutting from the floor in the kitchen. They enter the pipe and are quickly whisked away.
Act 2: The Mushroom Kingdom
They exit on the other side of the pipe in…well, the movie never specifies, but we’ll just say the Mushroom Kingdom. After a brief scuffle over the locket and an encounter with some Piranha Plants, the brothers start wandering about, trying to determine where they are. They eventually stumble across Toad, who’s attached to a metronome-like deathtrap. They free him and he decides to tag along.
I should mention that this depiction of Toad is more or less the same as his portrayal in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, but with a little less chutzpa in the face of danger. I’ll leave it to you to decide just how annoying that sounds.
The brothers eventually catch up to Hildy and the strange man, who then changes form to reveal himself to be none other than King Koopa (why can’t they ever just call him Bowser?). Luigi rushes off to save her, and—having no plan or weapons—gets himself and Mario captured. King Koopa leaves with Princess Hildy (she’s apparently a princess now) in tow while Mario and Luigi are to be executed via ballista. They just barely manage to show their executioners—who happen to be of a bearded human-like race known as “Yeelahs”—the locket before the trigger is pulled. Upon seeing the locket, the Yeelah proclaim the Mario Bros. the heroes of prophecy (is it just me, or are prophesies more common in movies than the Bible?). They then direct the trio to a nearby village to meet a wizard.
They meet the wizard, Woltan, and after some convincing, he sends them on a quest to the Pit of No Return to retrieve his wand. Meanwhile, Toad sends a message stating the brothers are still alive to Koopa via rocket-powered carrier turtle. Woltan gives Luigi three silver coins and sends the three on their way. As Mario’s complaining about never wanting to go on any quest, Luigi gives a beggar the three silver coins and receives a magic bean in return.
Meanwhile at Koopa’s castle, Koopa elaborates that he needs Princess Hildy to willingly marry him so that he can get his claws on the Crown of Invincibility. After briefly and awkwardly attempting to use charm and wit to persuade her, he defaults to love-potion laced chocolates, because apparently, it’s consensual when she’s under the effects of a love potion. The script cuts back to the progression of this plot point several times, presumably to provide a sense of urgency, but I’m not going to bother.
After camping out for the night, the Mario Bros. (and Toad) eventually stumble across a group of “toadstoolians” (i.e. Toads) working as slaves for King Koopa. This is followed by a chase scene in which the Mario Bros. have to run from the Hammer Bros., who’ve been sent to assassinate them. After escaping the Hammer Bros. and some more of Koopa’s minions, they find an egg in the woods which hatches into a “brontosaurus-like” creature. It’s actually a Yoshi, but is never referred to as such. It imprints on Mario, who shoos it away. After some more hiking, they (finally) come to the cave’s entrance. They enter, navigate some traps: including Thwomps and a strangely out-of-place Bob-omb, and enter a treasure chamber where the wand is. While in the treasure chamber, Luigi finds a jar of mushroom powder, and Toad takes a red leaf.
Outside, they’re greeted by Koopa and his minions. Koopa shoves Luigi and Toad off the ledge at the edge of the cave, sending them plummeting to their doom. Fortunately for our heroes, Luigi and Toad have the raccoon-leaf from earlier and use it to land safely. Mario, thinking his brother is dead, swears vengeance on Koopa as the Yoshi from earlier comes to his rescue. After the two escape from Koopa’s troops, Mario says goodbye to the Yoshi as it goes to be with its real mother.
Act 3: Koopa’s Castle
On his way to Koopa’s castle, Mario comes across the beggar Luigi got the magic bean from. The beggar reveals himself to be Woltan. Mario returns the wand and they head off to defeat Koopa. Koopa’s chief wizard, Beedleman, senses that Woltan has regained his powers and summons a storm to slow them down. As the storm brews, Mario takes cover, but Woltan tells him that there is nothing to fear because his magic is strong enough to protect them from the storm. Immediately afterward he’s vaporized by a bolt of lightning (Okay, I got to admit that’s pretty funny). Anyway, Mario continues onward, alone.
Mario arrives at Koopa’s castle and rushes in. Luigi and Toad, who escaped the caves by sprouting the magic bean from earlier into a vine they could climb, see him run in but are too far away to call out to him. Inside, Mario finds the place unexpectedly deserted. He seeks out Hildy, following her cries for help. He follows the voice only to find that (all together now) it’s a trap! After delivering the famous “the princess is in another castle” line (which is probably the most clever allusion to the games in the whole movie), Mario is taken away in chains. Fortunately, his captivity is brief as Luigi rescues him en route to the dungeon of Koopa’s real castle.
Now reunited, the brothers sneak into Koopa’s castle. The duo knock out some guards, steal their uniforms, and inadvertently stumble into King Koopa’s bachelor’s party. The king mistakes them for jesters and demands a song. After improvising a tune, the brothers sneak off to find Hildy. Upon finding her, they are shocked to find that the once sweet Hildy has been transformed into a “grotesque wench” (way too much makeup, long claw-like fingernails, etc.) by the chocolates. Hildy only barely recognizes Luigi before the guards barge in and take the Mario Bros. to the dungeon.
In the dungeon, our two heroes await their fate: in the morning the floor—which is made of ice—will melt and they will plunge into a pool of man-eating fish. Without anything better to do, Luigi resorts to having a real-talk with Mario. Turns out, the only reason Luigi still lives with Mario is because he promised their mother that he would look after Mario, because all Mario cared about was money and work.
The next morning, the ice begins to crack, Toad finally decides to check and see what’s taking our heroes so long, and Koopa’s wedding begins. Just as the remaining ice becomes too small to support both Mario Bros., Toad shows up. He manages to trick the dungeon’s guard into eating a poison mushroom, thereby straight up murdering him, and then rushes to the brothers aid.
Mario and company barge into the wedding. Unfortunately, Koopa is able to finish the ceremony while the protagonists are busy fighting through the guards. Just after Hildy says “I do,” Luigi breaks the spell on her via the mushroom powder he obtained in the Cave of No Return. Now the rightful-ish ruler of the kingdom, Koopa takes the crown and uses its power to begin turning Luigi to stone. Mario hefts Luigi’s petrified body and attempts to escape with Toad and Hildy. Just before his petrification completes, Luigi reminds Mario of the story of the genie and the fisherman.
As they escape, there’s a largely pointless confrontation with a pair of chain-chomps and a rather cool implementation of roto-disks. Eventually, the group is chased into an underground chamber…full of magma. Duh.
Our heroes attempt to cross a rickety rope bridge when Koopa finally catches up to them. Mario directs the others to take Luigi and get to safety. Koopa, at first, tries to use illusions to defeat Mario. When that doesn’t work, he uses his magic to pull Mario toward him and deliver a powerful uppercut. Mario is sent flying and only barely manages to grab onto the bridge. With his opponent now dangling precariously above a pool of magma, Koopa approaches to deliver the coup de grace. Just before Koopa cuts the rope Mario is hanging on, Mario remembers the story of the fisherman and the genie. Mario says that even though he may be small, he’ll always be bigger than Koopa. Koopa, of course, uses the crown’s power to grow. Mario continues to egg him on but Koopa becomes wise to Mario’s ploy and begins levitating to avoid destroying the bridge with his weight. That wasn’t Mario’s plan, however: Mario tells King Koopa that his shoe is untied and Koopa reflexively looks down, thus causing the crown that is now many times too small to fit on his head to slip off. Koopa plummets into the magma and everyone (including his former henchmen) rejoice. But suddenly, a giant flaming head emerges from the fire. Mario does the only logical thing in this situation and…tells Koopa that it’s over and he just needs to give it a rest? With one last furious roar, Koopa takes Mario’s advice and finally dies.
Woltan reappears and reveals that he was actually the former king of the Mushroom Kingdom all along. Later, in the field of pipes that will take our heroes home, the King gives a speech congratulating the Mario Bros. and Toad and presents them with medals. He then gives Hildy permission to return to Brooklyn so she can be with Luigi, stating that he will simply remarry and produce another heir to the throne. That’s a…surprisingly practical way of resolving that plot issue. Anyway, after saying their goodbyes, Mario, Luigi, and Hildy all return to Brooklyn.
Three months later, the trio are eating dinner at an Italian restaurant. Hildy and Luigi are now married, and Mario is finally out of debt. The newly-wed couple ask Mario if he’s seeing anyone. Just as he starts to explain—while he’s very happy for them—he’s not interested in a relationship for himself, he spies an attractive woman sitting by herself who happens to resemble a bit character who I didn’t bother mentioning before now because she only exists for the sake of this one call back. We see Mario walk up to her and start a conversation through the front window of the restaurant as the camera begins to pull back, revealing the Mario Bros. van whose side now reads “Super Mario Bros.: Ace Plumbers.”
Analysis and Review
So, this story is obviously more faithful to the source material, therefore it’s clearly better, right? Eehhhh…
Okay, first things first, movies are a collaborative effort: they are the end product of many people’s input and passion. For that reason, it’s hard to judge a hypothetical film solely on a script alone. Many factors can influence the quality of a movie: direction, acting, editing, the list goes on and on. So for this reason, I’m judging this assuming the performers never miss a beat, the director has some actual talent, and no scenes were cut for length. With that in mind…
Let’s start with the positives. Some of the jokes are actually really funny. I like that this script has a rather dark sense of humor in places, like having Woltan vaporized with little warning or fanfare. Some of the one-liners are fairly clever (though most are a little cheesy) and—if properly acted and edited—the slapstick could potentially be almost on par with something like Looney Toons or the good seasons of SpongeBob. Over all, many of the jokes have potential, and they do a good job of establishing a wry, yet light-hearted tone.
Over all, many of the jokes have potential, and they do a good job of establishing a wry, yet light-hearted tone.
I also like the dynamic between Mario and Luigi. Having Mario resent Luigi for no reason other than the latter is a responsibility the former never asked for may not be the most original idea, but I think it was a very interesting direction and made for a surprisingly deep and psychological take on the characters. Also, let’s not forget the reveal near the end in which Luigi admits to having similar feelings regarding Mario, which I thought was a good pay off for their character arcs.
Lastly, I liked that they made an effort to make the movie’s world resemble the games’. The thought of seeing a live action Super Mario Bros. that more closely resembles the games is enough to make me salivate.
Now the bad, few of the other characters other than Mario and Luigi get much character development. With the possible exception of Toad, none of the side characters really change or grow throughout the course of the story. Hildy remains tough but sweet, Woltan’s only change is that we discover he’s really the king, and Koopa’s not fleshed out much as a villain. This last one’s particularly infuriating because Koopa at one point mentions how his father had everything taken from him and his family was reduced to living in abject poverty. Taken by whom? King Woltan? That moment raised so many questions: questions I was very much looking forward to having answered, and they never mentioned it ever again! Easily the most aggravating thing in this script!
Next were some miscellaneous issues. Firstly, you probably noticed there were quite a few scenes that I only mentioned in passing. Well, that’s because a lot of scenes don’t really add much to the story and were effectively padding. Next, the story doesn’t quite know who its protagonist is. I know of two basic ways of determining who’s the story’s hero: “who drives the plot?” and “who undergoes the most character development?” For most of the film, Luigi’s driving the plot, but Mario undergoes most of the character development, but toward the end the movie changes gears and has Mario do both. I don’t think this is too big of a deal, seeing this is the Super Mario Bros. movie, and thus the writers may have just figured both brothers should share the spotlight, but even then it came across as a tad unfocused. Lastly, the movie shows its age in some of the worst ways possible: parts of it are painfully cheesy and cliché-ridden. It’s very clearly a product of the 90s.
A lot of scenes don’t really add much to the story.
Now for the Reznor in the room: the efforts to reference the games are often times distracting. I know that doesn’t sound right, so hear me out. The script makes an effort to reference the games, but it’s incredibly inconsistent in how it does so. I’m not against there being new ideas—especially considering this script was written in ’91 and there was a lot less material to go off of—but there are missed opportunities all over the place. For example, they never call the Mushroom Kingdom the Mushroom Kingdom, or Hildy “Princess Toadstool”—even as a title. Also, why have the majority of Koopa’s army be comprised of Yeelahs instead just having Yeelahs be the conquered peasants (I’m not anti-Yeelah, but give me my gosh-darn Koopa Troopas!)?
Because of this, the movie’s references feel kind of half-hearted: like they only included them out of necessity. Heck, some come across as completely shoe-horned, like the bob-omb in the Pit of No Return or the Chain-Chomps in Koopa’s castle: both come completely out of nowhere and add very little to the plot. While reading this, I got the impression there were times where the writers stopped and said, “wait, weren’t we writing a Super Mario Bros. movie? Oh crud! Quick, put in a character from the games.”
This may sound really weird, but I think the movie we got is easier for me to judge on its own merits than this one because it doesn’t try as hard to connect itself to the games, meaning I have to overcome less bias to accept it as its own thing. Because the first draft includes so many references to my favorite video game franchise of all time, I want it to be even more faithful.
Because the first draft includes so many references to my favorite video game franchise of all time, I want it to be even more faithful.
In its current state? It’s okay. I don’t think it would’ve been as controversial as the version that made it to theaters, though. It would probably be seen much the same way as Street Fighter: The Movie is. Either way, it’s nothing spectacular. I do think with some revisions, some trimming, a good director, and talented actors, it could be quite good. I liked most of the stuff in Brooklyn, and I think the climax works pretty well, but the second act drags and is lacking in the Mario charm I expect.
All in all, while it may be fun to speculate, I don’t think we’d be much better off with this version of the movie. But hey, Nintendo’s said they’re going to start licensing the movie rights to their franchises, so maybe a good Super Mario Bros. movie isn’t that far down the road.
About the author: Glen is a lifelong Nintendo fan whose love of video games has inspired him to pursue a career in computer programming; so much so that he is currently studying to get his masters in computer science. He also likes the Street Fighter movie for much the same reasons he likes The Super Mario Bros. Movie, cementing the fact he has questionable taste in films.