Last night’s Nintendo Direct saw the cast revealed for Illumination’s Super Mario film. Set to debut in 2022, Chris Pratt will play Mario, Charlie Day is Luigi, Jack Black is Bowser, and Anya Taylor-Joy is Peach. It’s a star-studded selection, but one that feels woefully ill-fitted to the source material, like the majority of video game adaptations that make their way to the silver screen.
The announcement was inconceivable, with me and a couple of friends descending into heaps of disbelief as Miyamoto ran down all of the celebrities who would be stepping into the shoes of these beloved characters. It was like watching a loved one being executed on live television. It just got worse and worse until we were forced to just laugh it off, to accept that this is happening and it was either going to be the worst thing ever conceived or a surprising delight. It’s coming from the studio behind Minions, so I’ll let you figure that part out for yourself.
Related: Chris Pratt Is A Terrible Mario, But Can We Talk About Anya Taylor-Joy As Peach?Even moving away from the utter absurdity of last night’s news, it highlights a problem that is endemic to Hollywood. Huge stars like Chris Pratt and Jack Black have major pull at the box office, standing a chance of attracting casual audiences who might otherwise give a film like this a miss. But this is Mario, one of the most recognisable figures in pop culture history, so I’m not convinced children and adults will be kicking off if their favourite perky plumber isn’t portrayed by Star-Lord. Yet here we are, staring down a film stuffed with talent – but to me, they’re tearing jobs away from voice actors who have spent years hoping for a break like this.
Charles Martinet, who has voiced the likes of Mario, Luigi, and Wario for several decades now, will play a part in the film, but this will be a minor cameo as opposed to playing a role in the main story. This means the decision was made by stuffy executives in a boardroom to cast acclaimed hunter of animals Chris Pratt and oust Martinet from the role he has spent the majority of his life portraying. It feels like a betrayal, and with children and adults all over the world already keenly familiar with his rendition of the character, hurling Pratt into the role will only confuse and alienate people.
Sure, the maybe-kinda-sorta homophobe from Jurassic World is Mario – that’s cool – but it’s also a clear play for a larger audience instead of opting for what would be the best decision for the project. I think that’s why the reaction was so stunning, with memes springing up in a matter of moments as it became clear that Mario was set to be played by a dude who hits up alleged conversion therapy supporters the Hillsong Church on the regular. While I love Jack Black and Charlie Day, a similar criticism can be levelled at them. Once again we have two massive stars with a mountain of recent successes. At surface level, their personalities do match those of Luigi and Bowser – but it still feels like a stretch, like a boardroom was hunting down the biggest stars with the smallest amount of relevance to fill out the cast. I’ll give Seth Rogen a pass on Donkey Kong, but only if he gets stoned on bananas with James Franco as Diddy.
Shortly after last night’s announcement I saw a number of talented voice actors from shows like The Owl House speak up on Twitter about the film’s casting. Zeno Robinson, who plays Hunter in the Disney show, said there is nothing inherently wrong with casting huge stars in a film like this, but in doing so you’re robbing opportunities from voice actors who have spent years in anime, games, and smaller projects waiting for their big break. To many, Super Mario could have been that chance, but instead the gigs have gone to A-listers who already have millions to their name.
Jeff Goldblum’s dire performance in The Boss Baby 2 and the replacement of Matthew Lillard’s Shaggy in Scoob are other examples of this going terribly wrong. Those who are already masters of the character or hardened voice actors with so much skill in the craft would be a much better choice than big names who are just going to phone it all in. Zendaya as Lola Bunny is a similar example, failing to express the same level of enthusiasm from the first film and several animated adaptations of the past few years that do them so much more justice – especially given the film was promoted with ‘Zendaya as Lola Bunny’, while the iconic Eric Bauza and Jeff Bergman, voice acting veterans both, were left off the billing completely.
Hollywood is all about maximum profits and maximum exposure, instead of ensuring the art form is reaching its highest levels of potential. That’s what Ilumination’s Super Mario feels like: a film that stands a chance of being delightful, but could also throw it all away in favour of stunt casting and a lack of respect for the source material. Hire voice actors who know what they’re doing instead of people like this. It’s just fair, and gives people a chance to shine who might otherwise be cast aside forever.
There’s always a chance we could be worrying about nothing and Super Mario will be a Jumanji situation. All of these stars could star in the introduction as their live-action selfs before being sucked off into the Mushroom Kingdom where Charles Martinet and company take the reins. Decades of games have shown that Mario can work without dialogue, and its humour is often better without it. If that’s the case it could be a modern classic – yet the cynical part of me isn’t convinced.
At least with Chris Pratt as Mario the line “So Long Gay Bowser” now has an entirely different meaning. I hope you’re happy, Nintendo – your most treasured mascot is now homophobic. Hey, at least it isn’t Ben Shapiro.