The Super Mario Bros Movie (2023)

Hey! Have you gone to see the latest video game movie sensation? It’s gotten some rough reception from critics, but audiences have been crazy about it!

I… didn’t like it. Well, I kinda did. It’s complicated.

While the copious references to the game series were great, the plot itself was rote in a boring, uninviting way. I’d like to try and analyze the movie’s storyform to see if it stumbles, and where.

Let’s-a go!

Main Character Resolve: …?

Okay, I’m already stuck. Does Mario change by the end of this movie? His trouble at the start of the story is that he quit a safe job to start a risky plumbing company with his vulnerable brother, Luigi. He’s not big enough or strong enough to make such a change work. He’s not Super. Throughout his adventures, he never loses that desire to fight even when the world is against him; he only gains the capacity to be Super. That sounds like he’s Steadfast to me. But that would mean his Influence Character, who almost certainly is Princess Peach, Changes in some fundamental way. Which… does she? Hm.

Since I’m a little stuck here, I’m gonna jump to the Overall Throughline.

OT Driver: Decisions

As I mentioned previously, the story is driven by Mario’s decision, right before the movie starts, to open up a plumbing company. Mario also makes the notable decision to plunge (heh, plumbing humor) into the Brooklyn sewer in search of the faulty pipe, the decision to seek out Princess Peach, the decision to fight DK, and all throughout the movie the decision to keep on fighting, even when the odds seem against him. Peach also makes the decision to talk to the Kongs, to take Mario along, and to (pretend to) marry Bowser. Decisions drive actions.

Limit: Optionlock

Mario’s failing plumbing company is defined by its lack of patrons, not any temporal basis. Bowser’s approach into the Mushroom Kingdom doesn’t have a strong temporal focus. The Kong Army is the last option for the Mushroom Kingdom’s survival. When this option (literally) falls through, Peach is forced into more desperate options. During Bowser’s invasion of Brooklyn, the only option left is to seize the Super Star–but how can Mario do it, when Bowser is so strong?

Outcome/Judgment: Success/Good

Bowser is defeated, and the Mushroom Kingdom gets its happy ending.

That mostly makes sense.

OT Domain: Physics

I’m torn on this one between Physics and Universe, but I think it’s a little closer to Physics, a la Star Wars, than it is to Universe. The story takes place in the motion and travel and dynamic pressure of the external situation.

OT Concern: Doing

Again, I feel like the connection between this movie and Star Wars is pretty stark. The goal of the Protagonist (Princess Peach) and her Kingdom is to successfully mount a defense against Bowser, however that looks. Obtaining the Kong Army is a secondary concern (perhaps a Benchmark) towards that process-based concern.

OT Issue: Skill

I’ve talked before about Mario’s fundamental issue: that he’s not Super enough to do the right thing. This also applies to Peach, especially since Mario becomes her champion later. As the Toads put it, “Look at us! We’re adorable!” They are incapable of defending themselves.

OT Problem: …hrm.

If we’re going full Star Wars, then the obvious choice would be Test, but Mario isn’t a Testy character, and neither is Peach. Peach doesn’t feel comfortable Trusting Mario until he has fulfilled her preliminary Test–and likewise, Cranky Kong refuses to Trust the Mushroom Kingdom until he’s Tested Mario against DK. But those seem… intermediary to me, more like Symptom/Response instead of Problem/Solution. So the Effect-Cause Dynamic Pair, then? Even if Test is the Problem and Trust the Solution, I can’t seem to figure out how Effect-Cause plays into Symptom/Response.

Now, if I wanted to start down here and work up, maybe a better conceptualization instead of Test-Trust would be Unproven-Proven. Mario starts his plumbing company without proving he knows how to make it work; they believe completing their first task will prove they’re really Super; before Mario has Proven himself through accomplishment, he’s “Not Important!”

But Mario Proving himself isn’t enough to stop Bowser. After all, he fails the obstacle course, he gets his butt kicked by DK, he gets blown up off Rainbow Road, and he gets whomped by Bowser in the final moments. The story makes a big deal about Mario refusing to give up, even when it seems hopeless. That kinda sounds like Ending vs. Unending. So if Mario is Steadfast, does that make his Critical Element Unending?

…wait, frick. That brings Test-Trust back again.

Okay, okay. Let me run down this line of thought. The Problem is Test, and the Solution is Trust. If Mario’s Critical Element is Unending, that makes the story a Start type–Peach needs to Start Trusting him. With that framework, the Overall Throughline is actually:

Which kinda makes sense! Mario has the fantasy of running a plumbing business, and later of being the savior of Brooklyn; Peach has the fantasy of persuading the unpersuadable Kongs to protect them from Bowser; Bowser has the fantasy of marrying a princess who will obviously reject him; the big climax of the story is Mario and Luigi finally living up to the fantastic image of the Super Mario Brothers.

Which makes the Main Character values:


I think Mario makes sense as a Be-er Approach. He defines himself by the person he is, rather than what he does. He wants to be a plumber, a champion, a hero. He stumbles throughout the story to do the things necessary to become the thing he imagines himself to be.

Is Mario Linear or Holistic? The default would be Linear, and I’m inclined to agree. He mostly lets himself be drawn by the whims of fate–their first client, the pipe rupture, the warp pipe, etc. He sees a problem and jumps to the nearest solution.

Let me know what y’all think!

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I have never seen anything or played anything Mario, but the Wikipedia seems to have a good summary of the film. Maybe, the write up will help you. Maybe, a different character is the Influence Character.

I managed to watch it today. Found it pretty entertaining!

Personally, my first hunch was that he was a Do-er. When he and his brother are headed to the couple’s apartment at the beginning of the movie, he has no hesitation climbing over the fence. When the streets leak happens, his first instinct is to do something about it. He acts first and thinks afterward, such as when he agrees to fight Donkey Kong. Moreover, “Universe” as a Domain makes much more sense for him (he’s noted to be short throughout the movie, he’s a “fish out of water” in the Mushroom Kingdom, he’s away from his brother etc.), and so does the “Mind” Domain for the Influence Character Throughline. Most of Mario’s family (particularly his father) didn’t agree with what he was doing, and Spike stubbornly believed that he’d “always be a joke”. They come around at the end after he saves Brooklyn, and I think they’re meant to represent the IC Change (as they’re some of the few characters who significantly change, and that change clearly seems to be a change of attitude).

I agree on Mario being Steadfast. I’m a bit more ambivalent on Princess Peach Changing though. In my eyes, she might be a RS (and IC) hand-off, and if she is the latter, I don’t think she has to significantly Change, since the other ICs already do, in the same way the Kid in The Princess Bride solidifies the Main Character Resolve.

To be fair, I had some trouble identifying the Influence Character(s) when I first finished the movie. There was a scene where Mario and Donkey Kong realized how they were in similar situations with their fathers, but it didn’t go any further than that. And the movie doesn’t stay in Brooklyn for too long, making the ICs from the beginning a bit disconnected from everything else. It might be better to see the IC Throughline here as a perspective rather than a specific character.

This probably is just my personal experience, but I felt that the Main Character Throughline was very light. The sequence at the end in the pizza restaurant with Mario doubting himself while the battle kept on going seemed more like a character beat that they had to check off rather than something organic to the story. His personal issues didn’t seem to be explored as much as the Objective Story.

I’ve seen one reviewer saying that the story lacked “heart” in some way, which is interesting considering that the movie sets up a decent relationship for the RS Throughline… right before separating its two main players. I get where they were going with this: they probably wanted to avoid the “Damsel in Distress” plotline and give a reason for the main character to have a personal stake in the OS conflict. But it does take away the RS for a big portion of the story without any proper hand-off in my eyes. Another reviewer felt that the whole “nothing bad can happen to us as long as we’re together” brothers thing at the end fell flat when Mario and Luigi were split up for pretty much the entire movie.

To me, it feels like the movie sets up things at the beginning, doesn’t explore them much in the middle, and then try to resolve them all at the end without build-up.

These all make sense to me. I suppose the only one I’m unsure of is the Story Driver: does the story conclude with a Decision?

Watched it a few days ago!

The amount of callbacks to the games was impressive…and exhausting :rofl:

The story crew were clearly fans of the material and poured a lot of love in. Lots of super-wide shots with extreme scale and exciting low-angle trucking cameras. The storyboards must have been nuts!

It’s also clear they were trying to make this work as a film at times, and not just a fanservice flick. The whole beginning with the Brothers in Brooklyn, as well as moments here and there between the characters (some Mario and Peach / DK scenes) and Bowser’s characterization – considering that Mario’s creator Miyamoto (who is notoriously uninterested in story arcs) was heavily involved, they tried.

Alas, with some major rewrites it could have been a complete story, but it’s not.

The Influence Character Throughline is teased but mostly absent. Luigi changes at the end (jumps in front of the fire to save Mario – never would have done that at the beginning) but regardless of resolve, it’s not the Main’s job to challenge the IC, it’s the other way around. Luigi doesn’t challenge Mario at all – Mario’s bravery challenges him, and really only at the end.

There are a couple of nice moments between Mario and Peach (her excitement about how Mario stuck it out against an overpowered DK, as well as their road talk about what it’s like in Brooklyn), but she is definitely not an IC player. She is strictly Protagonist (pursuit and consider), with only a moment of variation when she caves to Bowser in order to save Toad (IMO they went too hard on the Mary Sue angle and made her flatter than the damsel-in-distress cliche they were desperately trying to avoid).

As said above, there’s a brief scene between Mario and DK where they compare backgrounds, but that’s it. There are no IC players and thus, no real representation of the IC.

There’s some heart at the beginning, especially the dynamic between Mario and Luigi. It’s nice while they’re in Brooklyn. But once they split up, ironically all the heart goes away while the zany imaginative landscapes explode off the screen, and it only comes back at the very end.

The potential Main Character throughline is fuzzy too. Is Mario in “Universe” because he’s too short? Is he in “Attitude” because he refuses to change his mind, whether about starting the business or saving his brother? Or does all of this just roll into the Overall Story anyway and there isn’t a well defined MC?

That Italian family dinner at the beginning holds the key to fixing the story. The dad says, “stop holding your brother back.” Yet Luigi mostly caves to whatever Mario plans. What if that started to affect Mario? What if he saw Luigi enjoying himself in the Mushroom Kingdom (the formerly less capable green bro now jumps twice as high, like in the games), causing him to doubt whether Luigi means what he says “sure Mario whatever you want?” What if Dad is right? What if I am holding him back? What if “saving Luigi” just means dragging him back to Brooklyn in order to save the business and…me?

Lots of ways to make it a more complete story, but as it is…


I’m in agreement, but wanted to speak to this paragraph. I can’t remember much about the movie, but I’m speaking more to how the IC works, anyway, than to the specific events of The Super Mario Bros Movie.

If one were to make the argument that the movie does have a complete storyform, I think the storytelling that Luigi was challenged by Mario to be brave would be fine. Influence Character and Main Character aren’t characters, but perspectives. As such, Luigi isn’t supposed to challenge Mario at all. Nor is Mario supposed to challenge Luigi. The two characters don’t even have to interact with one another at all. Rather, the personal perspective is meant to be challenged by the perspective of the other by comparing the perspectives in context.

The way I think that might work in this movie is that the IC perspective is there to show that doing what Luigi does will get you into more and worse conflict and resolve nothing while doing what Mario does will get you into conflict, but will eventually get you through it. It’s basically challenging the personal perspective not to change the path it’s on. When Luigi sees that Mario is being brave and staying the course, Luigi taking up Mario’s bravery wouldn’t show that the MC has challenged the IC, then. Rather, it would only show that the Mind has examined both perspectives and decided to remain with the MC perspective/remain steadfast.

But again, I’m not suggesting that’s what this movie did.