Last Thursday, Nintendo livestreamed its semi-semi-annual Nintendo Direct, a 40-minute long marketing presentation featuring reveals of new video games for their Nintendo Switch system, trailers for games the public already knew about, and, for the first time since 1993, information about an upcoming feature film about the Mario Brothers.
Unlike their previous foray into the theatrical market, Nintendo decided to forgo the live-action route with their newest attempt at bringing Mario to the big screen, instead opting to have a fully animated feature. The film is set to be created by Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Despicable Me,” produced in close collaboration with creator of Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto.
Last Thursday, Miyamoto proudly presented the voice cast.
Chris Pratt is Mario and I could not believe my goddamn eyes.
The star-studded cast, including the aforementioned “Jurassic Park” star in the lead role, features Charlie Day of “Always Sunny” fame as Luigi—Mario’s timid brother—Anya Taylor-Joy of Netflix’s “Queen’s Gambit” as Princess Peach and Jack Black as Bowser. Seth Rogen is Donkey Kong.
Other roles include Kevin Michael Richardson as Kamek, Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong and Sebastian Maniscalo as Foreman Spike.
One thing unites almost all of these actors—they are not voice actors by trade. The Mario franchise specifically has a long history with voice acting, ever since the jump to 3D in the mid-90s. Charles Martinet, for example, has voiced Mario for over 30 years, defining the character’s voice and personality. Samantha Kelly has voiced Princess Peach for over a decade. (Nintendo was quick to assure fans that Martinet’s voice would cameo in the film, though this did not exactly quell the immediate tide of memes flooding the internet.)
Celebrity voice casts are nothing new. While there is no trailer footage of the new voice cast in their roles, leading to speculation running rampant, there are countless examples of celebrity voices impacting the quality of their films. The trend can be said to have begun with Robin Williams’s role as Genie in “Aladdin” back in 1992. Williams had, at the time, brokered an agreement with Disney for them to not use his image primarily to promote the film—he wanted the character to stand on its own, not to be used to “sell anything—as in Burger King, as in toys, as in stuff.” Of course, for a massive media company like Disney, the draw of using a celebrity as advertising was like a gaping black hole, sucking the corporation directly in, agreements be damned—and the resulting marketing explosion, one that violated Williams’s desires and permanently put a rift between them, setting the stage for the celebrity voice cast boom to come.
Dreamworks was a huge early adopter. Its films began using celebrities for certain voice roles, sometimes to great effect, such as Eddie Murphy in “Shrek.” This became more blatant as a marketing scheme as time went on, peaking in the horrifying “Shark Tale,” which featured celebrities as… themselves, but fish. (It was as bad as it sounds.)
A more recent, and more troubling, example, can be found in Warner Bros.’ “Space Jam 2: A New Legacy.” While the voice cast was mostly made up of the same actors that had been playing the Toons for years (Bugs Bunny was played by Jeff Bergman, the actor who had played him since the death of the legendary Mel Blanc), many commercials didn’t showcase the names of the voice talent. Instead, they showed off a movie featuring Lebron James, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Zendaya—a slap in the face to those loyal voice actors. Meanwhile, Zendaya, who voiced Lola Bunny in the film (and by many accounts did a bit of a poor job in comparison to contemporary portrayals of the character by actresses such as Kristen Wiig), got to have her name in the marketing. The blatant disrespect shown towards these talented voice actors, legacy or no legacy, is undeniable.
As the last week of September progressed, reactions online shifted from simple incredulity to, in some cases, outrage, mostly at the casting of Chris Pratt, as documented in articles and videos across the web and even on national television. Chris Pratt’s portrayal is contentious for two main reasons: the aforementioned sudden replacement of Charles Martinet, and, as has been coming to light, Pratt’s political affiliations. According to Queerty, Pratt is a member of a noted anti-gay church, follows many homophobic people and organizations on social media and has been photographed wearing symbols associated with a far-right militia called the Three Percenters in a post on Twitter. Members of this group were arrested in June for their involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, according to MSN.
All in all, the general attitude has levelled out into one of disappointment, once the raw initial excitement and awe over the bizarre casting choices faded. While many are sure that everyone in the cast can provide a decent performance, and that the movie will likely be very entertaining to its target audience of children, fans of Nintendo (such as myself) have spent decades dreaming up a return to cinema for the Mario Brothers, wishing to hear the same voices they’ve grown up hearing to finally have a place on the big screen. Others simply wish that actual voice actors, rather than celebrities known for other talents, got first pick at these roles. Others still simply wish Mario just wasn’t Chris Pratt. Personally, I would’ve wanted a film that doesn’t just feel so… cashgrab-y. Illumination is known for being a studio that takes ideas, churns them up and spits out whatever form of that idea would make enough money, and the simple truth is that I don’t trust them to make this film as good as it can be. The original “Super Mario Bros.” movie from 1993, while an incomprehensible mess, is one with a lot of originality and heart, making it eminently watchable, authenticity to the games or not.
Only time will tell what kind of movie this new film will be remembered as.
The “Super Mario Bros.” movie by Illumination Entertainment and Nintendo will be premiering in the holiday season of 2022.