Yes, it’s a winner! ‘Super Mario Bros. Movie’ zooms forward with high energy, clever humor

One callback after another recalls elements and characters from the beloved and globally popular video game.

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Mario (left, voiced by Chris Pratt) has a great sibling relationship with Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.”

Universal Studios

We start with some pressing questions about those Super Mario Bros., with the caveat that some mild spoilers are on their way, though all of this stuff is pretty much laid out in the first few minutes of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” so here we go.

How old are Mario and Luigi?

Great question! Complicated answer. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto is on the record as saying Mario is “about 24-25 years old,” just a tick or two older than his younger fraternal twin Luigi. However, the actors portraying Mario in various TV and film adaptations were in their 40s and 50s. In the brightly colored, energetic, action-packed and family-friendly “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) seem to be Gen Zers in the early to mid-20s, who have recently quit working for Foreman Spike (Sebastian Maniscalco) and have launched their own plumbing business. They still live at home, where most of the members of their extended family are highly critical of this risky move, as they mock the brothers’ cheesy and over-the-top TV commercial.

‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’

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Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic and written by Matthew Fogel. Rated PG (for action and mild violence). Running time: 92 minutes. Opens Wednesday at local theaters.

Do Mario and Luigi have Italian accents?

Yes, but mostly no. In the aforementioned TV ad, Mario and Luigi affect exaggerated Italian accents—but in this origins story, the lads are first-generation Italian Americans, born and raised in Brooklyn.

Got it? Let’s get on with it!

After a mildly scary prologue involving the power-hungry, narcissistic and temperamental Bowser (Jack Black), the king of all Koopas (who are basically anthropomorphic turtles), “The Super Mario Bros.” movie picks up in Brooklyn as the enthusiastic but bumbling Mario and Luigi botch their first job in spectacularly disastrous fashion, nearly destroying a zillion-dollar townhouse.

When a water main breaks that night, Mario sees this as an opportunity for the Mario Bros. to redeem themselves and save Brooklyn—which leads to both brothers getting sucked through the vortex into another dimension, with Luigi captured and held prisoner by Bowser’s henchmen, while Mario finds himself in an Oz-like situation in the candy-colored Mushroom Kingdom. With the help of the impossibly adorable and tiny but noble Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), Mario sets out on a journey to the palace of Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who can help him rescue his brother while saving her people in the process.

Off we go on an adventure that involves Mario and the gang often getting involved in harrowing but exhilarating challenges that mirror the video game, with Easter eggs and clever inside references abounding. (The slam-bang action sequences also feature a bounty of 1980s/1990s needle drops, from the obligatory “Holding Out For a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler to a-ha’s “Take on Me” to “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, not to mention an early sequence incorporating the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.”)

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Toad (voice of Keegan-Michael Key) and the mighty warrior Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) help Mario look for his abducted brother.

Universal Pictures

The Princess Peach of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is no damsel in distress; she’s a benevolent leader but also a mighty warrior with a true heart, and she becomes a kind of Miyagi to Mario, teaching him the ways in which he can literally grow bigger and stronger and become the hero of his own story. Co-directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic and their army of animators do a splendid job of delivering one callback after another to so many elements and characters from the beloved and globally popular video game—though the animation is, of course, much smoother and layered and often quite pretty, and the action sequences are like cartoon takes on the “Fast and Furious” franchise.

There’s also a steady sprinkling of psychedelic, existential weirdness throughout—the kind of stuff that will sail over the heads of the kids, while the adults will be thinking: Looks like SOMEBODY took some mushrooms. Like virtually every super-villain ever, Bowser wants to rule the universe, but he’s at least equally consumed with winning over Princess Peach, even going so far as to compose and sing a treacly ballad about her. Then there’s the disturbingly strange Lumalee (Juliet Jelenic), who bums out everyone with talk of how the only certainty in life is death—and that’s one of the more optimistic proclamations.

Mostly, though, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is about the comedy and the action. Fred Armisen and Seth Rogen are as fantastically funny as you’d expect them to be as Cranky Kong and Donkey Kong, respectively, and we get some nice moments from Kevin Michael Richardson’s Kamek and Khary Payton’s Penguin King.

Even though Mario and Luigi are separated for a good chunk of the story, whenever they’re together they talk about how nothing can stop them as long as they’re together, and that’s a nice sibling message. With an ending clearly setting up further adventures to come, “The Super Mario Bros.” is a solid kickoff to a new chapter in this enduring, multi-platform franchise.

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