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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Is the New Mario Bros. Movie Really Anti-Woke? No and Yes

Consumers still have an appetite for good movies, especially when Hollywood focuses on telling a good story instead of preaching.

Image Credit: Nintendo

My wife and I recently took our three kids to see The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the new CGI blockbuster starring Chriss Pratt (Mario) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Princess Peach).

I don’t know if the movie was worth the $80 I spent on snacks, but I can say it’s a good flick— even though I missed the first 10 minutes or so because they were changing the keg on the Sam Adams I ordered. (Buying beer at movies is how you end up spending $80 on snacks, and though I’m mildly worried about my revealed preferences here, that’s an econ article for a later date.)

While I enjoyed the movie, what I don’t understand is all the commentary describing the film as anti-woke.

The label seems to stem from the studio’s decision to cast Pratt and Charlie Day (Luigi) as the Italian American leads, which prompted John Leguizamo to boycott the film—apparently because Pratt and Day are white.

“No I will not [be watching]. They could’ve included a Latin character,” said Leguizamo, who played Luigi in 1993’s Super Mario Bros. “Like I was groundbreaking and then they stopped the groundbreaking. They messed up the inclusion.”

Leguizamo’s sour grapes aside, there’s nothing anti-woke in the movie. YouTuber Steven Jay Williams, better known by his screen name Boogie, has it right when he says Mario Bros. is neither woke nor anti-woke.

“This movie is average popcorn fare,” Boogie says. “You are to go in and forget the world exists for 90 minutes. You’re going to remember your childhood playing these games, and then you’re going to leave the theater minus twenty bucks and covered in popcorn grease.”

Like Boogie, I consider myself pretty “culturally sensitive” to identity politics. And I agree there’s no subtle political messaging in Mario Bros. It’s just fun.

Fans of the classic video game franchise—and who didn’t like those games?—once again get to experience their favorite characters. Joining Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach are Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), Bowser (Jack Black), and more recognizable creatures than can easily be counted. They embark on an epic adventure across multiple worlds. There are tubes, coins, powerups, and lots of familiar sounds. One mild twist is this: instead of Princess Peach serving as the MacGuffin like she did in the video games, it’s Luigi. Mario’s green brother is captured and imprisoned by Bowser early in the movie, and Mario must rescue him from our villain—who has a sadistic streak and his eye on Princess Peach. (Bowser wants to marry Peach and writes songs for her.)

No, the script isn’t Chinatown. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s a fun kids movie with car chases, combat, and nostalgia—lots of nostalgia. We’re talking the who’s who of 80s hits from Bonnie Tyler (“Holding Out for a Hero”), ACDC (“Thunderstruck”), and a-ha (“Take on Me”), as well as a couple from the 70s, like “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO. And it all works. It doesn’t even matter that we’ve heard these songs a million times, including in a bunch of recent Hollywood movies.

So sure, Mario Bros. is a throwback flick. It takes viewers back to a happier time when our world wasn’t so politicized. I don’t think that makes the movie “anti-woke”—unless by anti-woke one simply means the absence of wokism.

There’s no climate message in Mario Bros. Princess Peach is still a white girl. Not one character explores an alternative sexuality, and there’s not a whisper of social justice. On the contrary, there’s a subtle message of individualism. Heroism, we see, is an internal process. It’s about overcoming ourselves—our shortcomings even (pun intended)—to do something extraordinary.

Is that anti-woke? Again, I don’t think so—unless the mere absence of woke messaging qualifies.

In the end, whether you choose to call Mario Bros. anti-woke or just fun throwback filmmaking doesn’t really matter. It’s on pace to eclipse $1 billion at the box office—The Hollywood Reporter says it’s raked in more than $700 million in global ticket sales as of Monday—which is a sign consumers still have an appetite for good movies, especially when Hollywood focuses on telling a good story instead of preaching.

This article was adapted from an issue of the FEE Daily email newsletter. Click here to sign up and get free-market news and analysis like this in your inbox every weekday.

This article originally appeared in The Epoch Times.

  • Jonathan Miltimore is the Senior Creative Strategist of at the Foundation for Economic Education.