‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie,’ Super Nintendo World, And The Nostalgia-Transcending Joy Of Mario

The first thing you notice after walking through the warp pipe is how colorful everything is. It’s overwhelming — the red of the Piranha Plants, the yellow of the Question Blocks, the green of the adorable animatronic Yoshi, the ominous silver of Bowser’s Castle — but you’re not overwhelmed. You feel joy.

You feel joy all throughout Universal Studios’ Super Nintendo World, whether you’re eating the Fire Flower Spaghetti & Meatballs while surrounded by digital Toads at the Toadstool Cafe, or buying a Chef Toad toy (I really like Toad, now in Chef form) at the 1-UP Factory, or walking the incredible queue of Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. The ride itself could use some fine-tuning, but whatever, I still found smiling while driving on (and off) Rainbow Road.

I found myself smiling throughout The Super Mario Bros. Movie, too. It’s not Best Animated Feature-worthy or anything, and as far as video game adaptations in 2023 go, I’ll stick with The Last of Us. But it was nice to see all my friends (Peach, Shyguy, Toad) visualized on the big screen. It’s good to see them on bath products, LEGOs, and bottles of Truff hot sauces, too. I realize this makes me sound like a corporate shill. I’m not, but if Nintendo wants to pay me in gold coins, my email address is easier to find than a Cheep-Cheep in World 2-2. My fondness for the #brand comes from my love for the characters that dates back decades, but this is no case of unnecessary nostalgia.

The movie and the theme park land, and the happiness that they bring, only exist because of the video games. And Nintendo has kept the quality of the series remarkably high. At least one Mario masterpiece has been released every decade since Jumpman was introduced in 1981’s Donkey Kong. The 1980s: Super Mario Bros. (among others). The 1990s: Super Mario Bros. 3 (in the United States), Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64. The 2000s: Super Mario Galaxy. The 2010s: Super Mario Odyssey. And that leaves out the Mario Kart and Mario Party series, the arguably superior Super Mario Galaxy sequel, and even the Mario + Rabbids games are better than they have any right being. It’s not quite “all bangers, all the time,” but it’s close. That consistency has kept Mario relevant through the generations.

It also helps that you don’t have to make excuses for your love of Mario. Being a fan of Harry Potter, for instance, in the 2020s seems… complicated. No one is getting a Wario tattoo removed from their body (unless it was after a drunken night; in the stone-cold-sober morning, you regret not getting Pauline on your lower back). A case could even be made that no modern media franchise has brought more joy, more consistently, with less controversy, than Mario. I will not be the one to make this case, because I don’t want toxic Star Wars fans yelling at me. But you’re welcome to do so in your free time. Unless you’d rather play Super Mario 3D World instead. I wouldn’t blame you.

When asked about the ever-present popularity of Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto, the character’s creator, told NPR, “You know, before, when I was asked this question, I thought that it’s perhaps because the game sold well. And a lot of people have this experience of playing this game and playing it over and over, that it becomes commonplace for them.” He feels different now, however. “Mario is kind of like your avatar or the person that represents you in this world. And that experience is, you know, because it’s been around for so long, an experience that can be shared multi-generations, you know? A father and their children can share that experience,” he explained. Mario, as a franchise, as a character, as a spokesperson for Italian plumbers, transcends nostalgia. The things you appreciate about Mario as a child are different from what you value as an adult, but what matters is the appreciation itself.

When I was a kid, Jumanji was one of my favorite movies. I’m sure if I re-watched it now, I would still enjoy it, but it wouldn’t be the same. I would find the flaws. I saw Jumanji at the right time, which is the same reason why people think The Sandlot is a classic (I’m sorry but it’s fine). Compare that to Mario, which has no “right time.” Any time is the right time for Mario.