Lessons to learn

To sum it all up: the thing that could have helped Super Mario Bros. be a success, or at least less of a bomb, is if there was some agreement to what the film should be. Cohesion was missing since the beginning of the film’s inception, even though all of the elements were there for a fun, subversive, entertaining film that still harkens back to its source in an intriguing way. We’ve seen it can be done with films like Clue, The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the latter three films written by the same writing team, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. While Super Mario Bros. had actors who can carry oddball films and the positive tailwinds left by films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the project just failed to come together.

This lesson can be applied to the upcoming Super Mario Bros. film. Illumination Entertainment has been on a very successful streak with their Despicable Me franchise, Sing!, and other projects. But Illumination is still an animation company that is in the “proof of concept” phase as far as I’m concerned; maybe I’ve just been brainwashed by Disney and Pixar for my whole life, but I still feel they are the last word on animation and storytelling, despite their recent bungles. Also, if I’m being honest, I just don’t like Illumination’s art style. In any case, if Illumination plans on upping their game with Super Mario Bros. I hope they know they don’t have to overcomplicate things just to tell a simple Mario story. Let the characters be as fun and endearing as they are in the video games.

But at the same time, the original Super Mario Bros. film should encourage Illumination to take risks. It’s not a bad thing the film had loftier aspirations and sought to meet them with mind-bending visuals, like the tiny-headed Goombas with big suits, or view of an underground cyberpunk-influenced dino world. The only thing that went wrong was that these risks were taken for the wrong type of film. But risktaking is the only way great films are made. Just like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie wisely allowed their source material to guide them towards the creation of amazing visuals, Illumination should let the video game physics of Super Mario Bros. inspire new and inventive set pieces and special effects to keep the story moving and to keep the audience surprised.

What would be the biggest surprise for me is if the film did a tongue-in-cheek nod to the original Super Mario Bros. It would be nice to know that Nintendo is finally over their shame and recognize the piece of cinematic history Super Mario Bros. actually is. Despite its flaws, it’s still an entertaining movie, one that still influences film discussion and will continue to do so for decades.

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