Summer 1993. Dinosaurs ruled the world again in more ways than one as Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park devoured the box office in June of that summer. And that was despite being strangely unfancied after the director’s run of form that year and the big leaps needed to make the film work. Instead, it famously took down Arnold Schwarzenegger and Last Action Hero, released the weekend after. But it wasn’t the only film with dinosaurs in it that summer, as there was the small matter of the long-awaited Super Mario Bros a few weeks earlier but they were made extinct even quicker.

Suffice it to say, any notions of bringing the mustached brothers back to the screen were nixed for three decades, until now as animation giants Illumination thought they would have a go at re-vitalising Nintendo films with something much more in keeping with the video games and bring them to life as fans had hoped. And, with a track record like theirs after the monumental success of Despicable Me and Minions, as well as 2018’s The Grinch revamp, if anyone was going to be able to pull it off, it might just be them.

Well, they half did. Of course, this writer being of ever-increasing age isn’t exactly the target audience for such an endeavour but, given the all-encompassing nature of Gru and his little yellow pals in terms of their reach and audience, there was confidence that Mario and Luigi would do the same but, sadly, unless you are between 3-15 (the latter at a push) there isn’t anywhere as much substance as their other efforts.

In terms of the world building and its design, there is absolutely no doubt that Illumination and co have done their homework and excelled themselves once more, with each “level” of the Mario universe beautifully realised in piercing, intoxicating colours that burst from the screen. The intricacies of the characters themselves look fantastic, with Donkey Kong and Bowser, in particular, a treat for the eyes. And yet, everything feels rather empty, somehow devoid of the humour and fantastical nature of both the games and the studio’s work, bereft of anything that has made their name.

As with most video game adaptations, finding a story in amongst it all is a tough ask but with Mario, it’s even harder, and it’s somewhat surprising that there didn’t seem to be a desire to mix things up, as they did with The Grinch, or to mould a story around the madness of the games rather than something that feels too close of a rendition and, ultimately, uninspired. 

That insipidness feels even more obvious when you look down at the roster of talent involved vocally and the despondency you feel when none of them are given much to do. In particular, the likes of Seth Rogen, Jack Black, and Keegan-Michael Key are allowed to offer nothing more than what you’d expect from them unlike Jim Carrey’s whirlwind turns in the much-better-example-of-how-to-do-it Sonic films – or the first Lego Movie – though Black’s sing-song halfway through is, of course, a highlight. Indeed, there’s not much in the way of subversive humour and story beats for adults at all: instead, you’ll be wondering more than anything why you didn’t just stay home and play the games. 

That all said, if you are part of the demographic that this is aimed for, it’s not difficult to surmise that there’s a whale of time to be had as it’s a real kaleidoscope of fun, frolic, and fancy that is sure to go down a real treat with families and at the ever-expanding box office. If you’re older, however, a dusting-off of the VHS of the original for old-time’s sake might be in order. Maybe.