Home > Reviews > THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE – Brian Tyler


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In 1981 video gaming was changed forever following the launch of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong arcade game. The game introduced two iconic characters into public consciousness: the titular antagonist, a 300-pound gorilla with a penchant for throwing barrels at people, and the hero, an Italian plumber named Mario. Since then, Mario has appeared in over 200 video games – including some of the most successful and popular titles of all time – and has become the recognizable mascot face of Nintendo as a whole. Understandably, Nintendo have been very protective of their man, and have been reluctant to allow movie adaptations featuring him (or, for that matter, many of their other characters); this reluctance was compounded following the 1993 release of the Super Mario Bros. film starring Bob Hoskins, which was a critical and commercial disaster. Now, almost 45 years after his initial appearance, Nintendo finally have a bonafide hit on their hands with this new Super Mario Bros. Movie, an animated action adventure featuring all the classic characters – Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, and more – and the voice talents of Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, and Fred Armisen, among many others.

Now; a confession. I have never played Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., or any of its multitude of spinoffs and sequels. As a kid I was not a gamer – I was much more into TV, movies, and music – and I never owned a traditional game console. I think I have played Mario Kart once or twice at a friend’s house but, beyond that, my knowledge and experience of that world is, essentially, zero. I don’t know the characters, I don’t know the storylines, I don’t know the relationships, and – most importantly for this review – I don’t know the music. The score for the Super Mario Bros. Movie is by Brian Tyler, working with the original themes by Japanese composer Koji Kondo, and Tyler was a massive fan of the games. In an interview with Jazz Tangcay for Variety, Tyler says: “this music was a part of my childhood in the same way that I grew up listening to film scores,” and goes on to say that his score was intended to “deliver fan service to the legion of gamers who understand the original music inside-out … I wanted to incorporate the music that I heard in that 8-bit form and along the way bring it into the world of a big epic, emotional film score.”

To that end, Tyler says he incorporated over 100 of Koji Kondo’s original themes into his score. In the same Variety interview he rattles off several of them – the main Mario Theme, Toad’s House theme from Super Mario Bros. in 1988, a cue from the underwater theme from Super Mario Bros. in 1985, the bomb battlefields theme from Super Mario 64 in 1996 – and that’s just in one cue, for the scene where Mario enters the Mushroom Kingdom for the first time. Other sources suggest that the score also references the Overworld theme from Super Mario Bros. 3, the Underground Level theme, Bowser’s Airship and Castle themes, the Deep Dark Galaxy theme, the Level Complete fanfare, the Starman theme, and location specific themes referencing Fossil Falls, Peronza Plaza, Riverside Park, and the Super Mario Kart Rainbow Road, as well as the Jungle Hijinx music from Donkey Kong Country.

This level of respect for his source material is admirable – I would expect nothing less than that from Tyler – and the intricacy and dexterity required to weave all this thematic content together is astonishing. But here’s the thing; as I said, I don’t know this music. I couldn’t identify all the multitude of references and auditory easter eggs if my life depended on it, so I’m not even going to try. Suffice to say, this score is absolutely packed to overflowing with musical nuggets that will delight classic Mario fans, but for me the best thing about it is that you don’t actually need all that history to be able to appreciate it, because Tyler’s work here stands on its own as a hugely enjoyable work in its own right.

The score is a terrific hybrid of full orchestral grandeur backed by choir, elements of jazz and rock, homages to the synth and 8-bit roots of the original game, and even some original songs. In film context the score weaves in and around a number of needle-dropped rock songs (including “No Sleep till Brooklyn” by the Beastie Boys, “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler, “Take On Me” by A-Ha, “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, and “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra, among others), as well as the iconic “DK Rap” from Donkey Kong 64 written by an uncredited Grant Kirkhope, but Tyler still makes his music stand out in this crowded musical landscape.

Tonally, the score is everywhere – it veers from heroic adventure music to fantasy to whimsical comedy, horror, romance, and more, sometimes within the confines of the same cue – and while this does give the score the capacity to be somewhat overwhelming, Tyler skillfully avoids falling into the trap of writing 90 minutes of potentially exhausting mickey-mousing by making his emotional shifts seamless and appropriate, such that everything flows really well.

The album is much too long – here, again, is my increasingly frequent criticism of albums that eschew creative curation in favor of releasing as much as possible and letting the customer create their own mixes – but despite that there are highlights galore. Tyler’s new main theme for Mario and Luigi, the Mario Brothers themselves, is introduced in the first cue, the 7-minute “Super Mario Bros. Opus,” which acts as a sort of mini-overture for the score as a whole. It’s a superbly entertaining blend of melodic orchestral mischief, and is often backed by Tyler himself on a rock drum kit, but it also sometimes slows down and presents ideas for piano and strings of a more intimate and sensitive nature. The subsequent “Press Start” continues with its presentation of the main theme, this time in a light jazz arrangement over a medley of Kondo’s music plus sound effects from the original Nintendo games, and later there are especially outstanding statements in “World 1-1,” and several others.

The theme for Bowser, the villain of the piece, forms the core of “King of the Koopas,” and is a darkly ominous march for low brass and swirling, portentous orchestral textures. Meanwhile, the theme for “Princess Peach” gets several major statements later in the score, notably in “Platforming Princess.” Traditionally, Peach is the ‘damsel-in-distress,’ but here Tyler posits her as anything but, and her theme has a kick-ass attitude in its own right, full of heroic flair, snare drum riffs, brass fanfares, racing strings, and darting woodwind trills.

Everything else is mostly variations on this core trio of Tyler themes, plus the various Kondo themes, in an array of richly engaging settings, including some bombastically enjoyable action music, dainty and whimsical fantasy sounds, and hard rock instrumentals. The adult choir singing the name ‘Mario’ against the languid jazz of “It’s a Dog Eat Plumber World” is hilarious. The action and horror stylings of “The Warp Pipe” make some excellent use of low, urgent piano chords and frantic string rhythmic ideas, while the subsequent “The Darklands” is more ferocious still, recalling some of the aggressive work Tyler contributed to scores like Darkness Falls at the beginning of his career.

There is a superb sense of wonderment and good-natured heroism in “Welcome to the Mushroom Kingdom” and the subsequent “2 Player Game,” but there are also some head-spinning genre shifts, from jazz to western pastiche, to broad comedy, and more, in quick succession, all with a whirlwind set of acknowledgements of numerous Kondo themes, as well as a return to the Mario and Bowser material. Parts of “The Mushroom Council” have an unexpected French flair peeking through the bombastic action. “The Adventure Begins” has a Korngold-esque swash and buckle, then adopts a sort of pseudo-folk music vibe, before moving into a ‘majestic vistas’ travelogue sequence which is fascinating. “Lost and Crowned” is beautifully romantic.

The three-part ‘Kong Family’ sequence comprising “Courting the Kongs,” “Drivin’ Me Bananas,” and “Rumble in the Jungle” blends tribal percussion and ethnic winds into the orchestral component to provide the score with an appropriately exotic feel. The choir grunts and chants ominously, and there’s a terrific big-band arrangement of the Mario theme augmented by wailing guitars, sensational horn triplets, and more, making the sequence one of the standout parts of the score.

Similarly the five-part ‘Mario Kart’ sequence comprising “Karts,” “Practice Makes Perfect,” “Buckle Up,” “Rainbow Road Rage,” and “Blue Shelled” adapts numerous thematic ideas from the various Mario Kart location stages into a terrific orchestral action set piece, again augmented by Tyler’s effortlessly cool rock percussion vibes. There’s a magical sweep part way through “Buckle Up” that is just wonderful, while parts of “Blue Shelled” have an unusual fading, echoing choral effect which makes the main Mario theme seem somewhat distorted and threatening.

“Fighting Tooth and Veil” begins with a charming piece of wedding pastiche, all dainty harpsichords and prancing strings, but quickly becomes an action standout, running scattershot through various Kondo themes, olde-timey wild-west cowboy music, and more. This sequence is also notable for the thematic juxtaposition where the Bowser and Peach’s themes play off against each other to illustrate their individual conflict. “Tactical Tanooki” and “Grapple in the Big Apple” continue the fast, intricate, complicated action writing – main theme and Bowser’s theme everywhere – and I especially love how the first few chords of “Grapple in the Big Apple” have a flash of Ghostbusters to them, another film in which working-class heroes have to save their city from a marauding threat from another dimension.

There is a sense of wonderful positivity to the rock music in “Superstars,” and then the final trio of “The Super Mario Brothers,” “Bonus Level,” and “Level Complete” revel in optimistic Nintendo nostalgia, presenting versions of several legacy themes, often complete with sound effects, as well as a sweeping, heroic final reprise of Tyler’s main theme. It would also be remiss of me not to mention the two songs; “Peaches,” performed by Jack Black, is a Tenacious D-style rock ballad performed in his inimitable style in-character as Bowser, singing declarations of love to the reluctant Princess. The lyrical dexterity of the chorus (‘peaches, peaches, peaches, peaches, peaches…’) leaves something to be desired, but it all descends into hilarious chaos by the end. I hope it gets nominated for an Oscar. However the less said about the “Mario Brothers Rap,” written by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy and performed by Ali Dee, the better.

Fans of the Super Mario Bros. games, in all its various incarnations, will certainly be the ones who get the most out of this score. Playing ‘find the musical easter egg’ will result in hours, if not days of fun, and as I said earlier the fact that Tyler went the extra mile to pay loving homage to Koji Kondo’s music in this way is outstanding, and shows a deep respect for Nintendo heritage. However, as I also said, people like me who are much less familiar with the legacy themes will also find themselves won over by Brian Tyler’s enthusiasm, dynamism, and sense of fun. The action music, especially in the score’s final third, is terrifically satisfying, some of the best music of this type he has written in quite some time, and while some of the rapid shifts in tempo and style could prove to be overwhelming for those of a calmer disposition, anyone who has bought into Tyler’s previous work in this style will surely find the Super Mario Bros. Movie to be rewarding. Let’s a-go!

Buy the Super Mario Bros. Movie soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Super Mario Bros. Opus (6:42)
  • Press Start (2:38)
  • King of the Koopas (3:33)
  • Plumbin’ Ain’t Easy (1:16)
  • It’s a Dog Eat Plumber World (1:15)
  • Saving Brooklyn (1:47)
  • The Warp Pipe (2:05)
  • Strange New World (2:03)
  • The Darklands (2:20)
  • Welcome to the Mushroom Kingdom (2:18)
  • 2 Player Game (5:07)
  • The Mushroom Council (2:07)
  • The Plumber and the Peach (1:21)
  • Platforming Princess (1:39)
  • World 1-1 (2:34)
  • The Adventure Begins (3:04)
  • Peaches (written by Aaron Horvath, Eric Osmond, John Spiker and Michael Jelenic, performed by Jack Black) (1:35)
  • Lost and Crowned (1:39)
  • Imprisoned (2:54)
  • Courting the Kongs (2:00)
  • Drivin’ Me Bananas (1:20)
  • Rumble in the Jungle (3:59)
  • Karts! (1:51)
  • Practice Makes Perfect (1:00)
  • Buckle Up (1:31)
  • Rainbow Road Rage (3:31)
  • Blue Shelled (2:26)
  • An Indecent Proposal (3:24)
  • The Belly of the Beast (1:23)
  • Fighting Tooth and Veil (3:45)
  • Tactical Tanooki (2:22)
  • Mario Brothers Rap (written by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, performed by Ali Dee) (0:58)
  • Grapple in the Big Apple (3:40)
  • Superstars (1:39)
  • The Super Mario Brothers (1:27)
  • Bonus Level (1:01)
  • Level Complete (2:32)

Running Time: 87 minutes 46 seconds

Back Lot Music (2023)

Music composed and conducted by Brian Tyler. Orchestrations and arrangements by Rossano Galante, Jeff Kryka, Dana Niu, Josh Zimmerman, Kenny Wood, Nathan Alexander, John Carey, Max Lombardo and Sarah Trevino. Original Nintendo themes by Koji Kondo. Recorded and mixed by Greg Hayes. Edited by Matthew Llewellyn . Album produced by Brian Tyler.

  1. Marco
    April 12, 2023 at 10:59 am

    It is indeed a fantastic score, both in terms of respecting Kondo’s themes and delivering a cohesive musical whole. In regard to recognizing the themes, I’d highly recommend the Super Mario Bros. Music 30th Anniversary album: it features roughly three quarters of the themes needle-dropped into the score, and is relatively easy to obtain, without having to practically remortgage your house on the complete game soundtracks… like I did. 😉

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