The Super Mario Bros Movie is a lot. Inside of 92 minutes, it introduces dozens of characters and tons of locations and doesn’t spend much time developing any of them. The movie feels less like a story about Mario and more like a challenge to the Illumination animators to see how many references to Nintendo games they could hide in one place, and in that sense, they succeeded. However, many people seem to be loving the movie in spite of its lightning-fast pace and lack of focus, and a sequel is all but guaranteed already. Frankly, despite my grievances, I welcome that. At the very least, The Super Mario Bros Movie is an excellent foundation for a much better sequel.
The Super Mario Bros Movie Established All the Worlds: A Sequel Can Bring Them to Life
This movie showed us a lot of locations: Brooklyn, the Mushroom Kingdom, the Dark Lands, the Jungle Kingdom, the Snow Kingdom, and glimpses of other places like a land of Yoshis and the Sand Kingdom. Ironically, the location that we see the most of on an intimate level is probably Brooklyn, which is the place that required the least explanation. A sequel is a terrific opportunity to slim down the number of locations featured and really breathe life into the locations it chooses to emphasize.
How does the Mushroom Kingdom really work? We get exciting, albeit kind of confusing glimpses of what life is like for the kingdom’s inhabitants. It would be great to spend even just five minutes in a sequel watching Toad go about his daily life in the Mushroom Kingdom, to experience that on a practical level not seen since Super Mario RPG on SNES. And on a very nerdy level, it would be fun if Nintendo and Illumination can contrive a canon reason why there are just floating platforms all over the place.
Alternatively, Illumination could set an entire movie in the Dark Lands, easily. The Super Mario Bros Movie demonstrated that Dry Bones can be really creepy when talented animators get their hands on them, and King Boo and his underlings could become the major antagonists of a movie without even involving Bowser. The first movie barely scratched the surface of how much fun kid-friendly horror is possible here.
Meanwhile, there have been rumors of a Donkey Kong movie for a couple years already, so a closer look at the Jungle Kingdom almost feels assured already. But the point being made here is that Nintendo and Illumination created a lot of absolutely beautiful worlds for The Super Mario Bros Movie, and a sequel could make them feel so much more real — beyond the impeccable CGI used to construct them.
Narrow Down the Cast of Characters, Go Deeper with Them
Without venturing into spoiler territory, Mario and Luigi’s character arcs in the movie are resolved rather simply and conveniently, and very little that happens in the movie actually feeds into how those arcs are resolved at the climax. That might sound like a complaint, but it’s actually an attempt at praise; most of the dozens of other characters don’t have a character arc at all. Toad has almost no function at all in the movie beyond delivering plot exposition, for example.
However, now that The Super Mario Bros Movie did a speedrun of the entire Mario universe and its characters, a sequel can afford to slow down, narrow its focus to a smaller cast, and explore the depth in these delightful characters. For instance, the first movie teased a mystery behind the origins of Princess Peach, but it neglected to use that mystery to inform Peach as a character much. It would be awesome if a sequel can actually dig into the psychology of being Princess Peach (in so much as a kids movie with competing obligations can allow). As it stands, this version of Peach is basically a Nintendo version of Queen Amidala from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which begs to be explored further.
On the flip side, Toad has been established as a brave and adventurous character who is also tiny and doesn’t do anything very important. That is actually a really great foundation for a character. It would be so easy to give Toad a story arc about how a pint-sized little dude can make a big difference. For example, maybe Toad goes full-on Captain Toad to track down a MacGuffin nobody else believes even exists, and then it’s used to give Mario the power to defeat whichever bad guy features in the sequel. Simple arcs like these practically write themselves, but they are bizarrely lacking in the first movie.
The biggest challenge might be how to continue developing Mario as a character, since the first movie basically ends with him becoming the archetypal hero he is in the video games. The copout solution might be — maybe Mario doesn’t have to keep evolving. Zack Fair is a generic, archetypal hero that manages to stay extremely endearing, after all. Maybe Mario can just keep being his charming, helpful self, ushering the plot forward and helping other characters go through their more substantial character arcs.
A Mario Movie Sequel Could Be Phenomenal
Everybody loves a beautifully animated action sequence, but The Super Mario Bros Movie had enough action scenes and montages to fill up two movies already. A Mario movie sequel is the time to catch its breath, concentrate its scope to something more intimate, and tell the best darn Nintendo story ever told. The foundation is all there. Nintendo and Illumination just have to take that chance to Monty Mole their way to something deeper.
(Then they need to make a Metroid movie.)