When most folks head to the theater to check out The Super Mario Bros. Movie, they’ll probably be expecting a funny and charming and very nice-looking animated movie. But what they might not expect is a pretty great action movie. And while there are plenty of extremely sick action sequences in the film, the peak is undeniably the Mad Max-esque Mario Kart chase on the Rainbow Road.
Warning: This article contains some spoilers for The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
The Rainbow Road sequence comes about two thirds of the way into the film, after Mario and Peach have secured the help of the entire Kong family against Bowser. Everybody loads up in their kart of choice and hits the Rainbow Road–a shortcut to Bowser’s Dark Land.
But Bowser sees them coming and springs an ambush, and a wild chase ensues. And that comparison to Mad Max wasn’t just descriptive–this sequence is actually Fury Road-level good.
So when GameSpot sat down with directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, we couldn’t help but pick their brains on how this incredible sequence came together.
“Well, we definitely had like a blockbuster approach to making this movie. To me, this is a movie that’s been like 40 years in the making, you know, and I’ve always considered Mario more of an action game,” Horvath said. “The characters look comedic, but the story is always high stakes, you gotta save the princess or save the world or whatever in the game. So we wanted to reflect that action sensibility.”
But that wasn’t always easy or intuitive, with “Michael and I coming from TV animation, where you have, like, no budget to do anything,” Horvath said, laughing.
Their solution? Bring in some of their favorite artists they knew from TV, “who are always probably a little held back by the restrictions of TV,” and “we worked really closely with them to just create, like, the craziest action sequences that we could.”
The Rainbow Road sequence being a case in point.
“There’s a shot on Rainbow Road that Michael was pitching for months, and I think you almost broke the studio,” Horvath said, referring to Micheal Jelenic, his directing partner on this film and on Teen Titans. “When that shot happened, it was so many different people involved in one single shot, but it turned out like–it’s iconic and beautiful.”
Both Horvath and Jelenic mentioned Unikitty creator Ed Skudder, who served as the Super Mario Bros. Movie’s head of story–that’s the person who’s in charge of the film’s storyboard artists–as being crucial to making the action not only work but shine. Jelenic specifically mentioned that Skudder spent a very long time working out that lengthy one-shot on the Rainbow Road.
“He is just as good as anybody at moving the camera,” Jelenic said. “And so even in the boards, the camera moves in just an incredible way. And he spent months doing that [on a single shot in the Rainbow Road sequence].”
“When you do that one-shot, it makes things exponentially more complicated, with animation and lighting and all these things. So it’s the resources and the talent and the dedication of everybody [that made it work],”Jelenic said.
“I think that sequence was the most challenging. Definitely technically the most challenging, you know,” Horvath said. “Like, the entire road is not like a solid element like a street that has an asphalt surface or something. It’s actually a visual effect because it’s always glowing and shimmering and there’s particle effects on it. So every single shot that’s in the Rainbow Road had to go through the visual effects department, which is super expensive and time consuming. So yeah, we were super ambitious with that whole sequence.”
But it was worth the effort, Horvath said.
“We knew it would be a standout moment in the movie if we really gave it our all. And yeah, the studio really got down with it, man. They backed us up.”
Which is good, Jelenic said, “because we were really worried about that sequence.”
“I think there were moments where it was like, ‘We’re we’re not sure about this. We’re not sure this is gonna work,’ But I think when everything sort of locked in the final place, in terms of lighting and comp and all that stuff, everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, this is definitely cool.’ So we were so lucky to have that support from the studio,” Jelenic said.
“There’s so many moments in this movie that, visually, I would put up against any live action superhero movie, or anything. The studio in France sort of just sort of set a new bar, I think when it comes to action adventure movies.”
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