After the critical and financial disaster that was the 1993 Super Mario Bros. film, it was generally assumed that Nintendo would never pursue another movie starring their beloved plumber. Yet their partnership with NBCUniversal has seemingly changed everything. In addition to development on Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios parks around the world, Nintendo and Universal subsidiary Illumination announced work on The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which is set to release next April.
The film (which I’ll refer to as the Mario movie from now on) has certainly raised eyebrows so far. Given the high profile of the source material, it’s only fair that many would be skeptical about it. Mario is perhaps the most venerated video game property in history, and as a result, so much has been said about what we’ve seen so far. From the initial memes surrounding the cast announcement to the cautious hype for the first trailer, following the movie has been an interesting ride to say the least.
Now, listen: I’ve been a Mario fan my entire life. Like many others, some of my earliest gaming memories involve the plumber. I’m also not an animated kids movie connoisseur, and I’m especially not a fan of the typical fare that Illumination typically puts out.
So yes, I wasn’t exactly expecting anything great. And when the initial details and cast list was announced, I admit that I was ready to write it off immediately. Yet from the two trailers we’ve seen so far, the Mario movie looks like it has potential!
A traditional tale with some modern twists
From the brief story bits we’ve seen so far, the plot for the Mario movie seems pretty straightforward. Mario and Luigi enter the realm of the Mushroom Kingdom and help Princess Peach and the Toads stop Bowser and his minions. Bowser has apparently been conquering kingdoms in search of their Power Stars to take over the world.
Simple and to the point, and about what you’d expect. To expect anything more in-depth would be underestimating the intention of movies like this. Plus, the Mario series barely drifts beyond the expected story beats anyway nowadays, at least for the mainline series.
From my perspective, it was getting the characters right that was more important, anyway. Not just the casting — we’ll talk about that later. It’s the dialogue and tone of the writing that I paid attention to more, and on that front, the movie’s hitting a lot of good beats. I especially want to highlight Bowser, as not only is Jack Black clearly giving his all to the role, but I’m already loving his gruff and intimidating but still expressive personality.
What’s been even more fun, especially as a fan, is seeing all the franchise nods and winks to other areas of the franchise. The latest trailer, for instance, showed off more of the Mushroom Kingdom and other areas the gang will travel to. The movie will incorporate Mario elements like kart racing and platforming, and I’m all for it. It makes the movie feel just a little bit more like a true Mario story, not just a typical Hollywood production that’s got the Mario Bros. in it. (Looking at you, live-action film.)
Diving into this Mario world
Translating the world of Mario to the big screen is a tall task. Especially if you’re looking at the pre-3D titles, Mario worlds just look so… I dunno, video game-y? So much so that making a Mario level feel at home in a movie is asking a lot.
The live-action movie sidestepped this issue by introducing a brand new world that was much more traditionally filmable. (Your mileage may vary on whether or not that world was interesting.) But Illumination and Nintendo are committed to getting that retro Mario feel going. Bricks, pipes, and coin blocks randomly floating in the sky? Check, check, and check.
And I’m of two minds with this. When you see floating platforms and objects in a Mario game, you don’t question it. It’s ingrained in your brain that those are supposed to be there. In a movie, they stick out like a sore thumb.
How exactly they’re going to incorporate the platforming elements remains to be seen. It’s certainly a weird look, even for a Mario film. But I suppose a Mario movie wouldn’t really be complete without it.
Fine, let’s talk about the Mario movie cast
Right from the instant Chris Pratt’s face appeared, the Internet went berserk. Pratt’s casting was immediately picked up by news outlets and the online community at large. Cue the sneers and derisive laughter and sighs of frustration.
And yeah, I’m not gonna claim his voice as Mario is spectacular in any way. Honestly, from the trailers we’ve seen, his voice sounds a bit forced. It almost seems like Pratt was cast for star appeal rather than trying to find a good voice for Mario.
You can maybe say that about the rest of the cast as well. Big names like Jack Black and Seth Rogen will of course attract attention, especially from parents and older kids who know them from other roles.
It’s obviously difficult to separate the familiar voices for these characters from the games. By this point, hearing anybody besides Charles Martinet voice Mario is bordering on sacrilege. Though in all seriousness, the cast on the whole seems to be doing a solid job, with some standouts like Charlie Day as Luigi and (as I mentioned) Black as Bowser.
Setting hopes and expectations for the Mario movie
With projects like this, it’s best to temper expectations right to the very end. My impressions of what we’ve seen so far are generally positive, yet I also recognize that I’m not the target audience for this. I’m a 26-year-old man who probably plays video games more than he should, and this is clearly a movie for kids and families.
Yet Mario has had universal appeal. The series bridges gaps between old-school and new gamers.
And let’s face it. Whether or not the Mario movie is any good, it’s not gonna make a difference to the success of the franchise at large. The Mario series is already well and truly entrenched. One silly animated movie bombing isn’t gonna stop it in its tracks — or, God forbid, ruin the franchise.
So I say: if it’s good, embrace it! If it’s bad, so what? It’s harmless either way.
What are your thoughts on the Mario movie trailers? Are you excited for the movie? Think it looks atrocious? Let us know!