If you were ever a child of the mid-80s and early 1990s, you knew the names Mario and Luigi, the Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros, and the Nintendo Entertainment System games dedicated to their wily adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom. They had to deal with power-up such as Starman and Fire Flowers, rescue Princess Toadstool from King Koopa (aka Bowser) and do it all with very heavy mustaches and overalls. The creation of Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka was the heights of early platform gameplay, and Super Mario Bros was renowned being one of the greatest video games of all time, the true sign that video games could be a billion dollar sales industry and a multimedia franchise with an animated television series and feature films, and a live-action feature film – to saying nothing of composer-music-maker Koji Kondo’s era-defining soundtrack.
Still, the original live action movie of “Super Mario Bros” from 1993 and married filmmakers Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel with John Leguizamo, Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper flopped badly upon release. The 2023 video game industry is currently filled with the far more hardcore likes of Hollow Knights, Crusader Kings and Witchers. And seriously, two post-Pacman-like Italian cartoon characters running around on Mushrooms? How could you sweat this?
So, why is everyone freaked out excited by – or truly hating on – the new Super Mario Bros. Movie starring Chris Pratt as Mario, Charlie Da as Luigi, Jack Black as Bowser, Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, Keegan-Michael Key as Toad, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong and Sebastian Maniscalco as Spike, all despite the fact that box office projections have the new animated ‘Super Mario Bros Movie’ heading for $141 million plus opening weekend? All part of a present day universe where “Sonic” is turned into a movie franchise and “The Last of Us” zombie game is made into an emotional HBO’s series?
It all started with early naysayers and video gamers being pissed off that there was a lack on Italian and Italian American representation from Guardian of the Galaxy and Jurassic Park overseer Chris Pratt.
“We are collaborating with [Pratt] and his experienced team to not just create a character-licensed film, but a new piece of entertainment which brings Super Mario Bros. to life on the screen, and allows everyone to enjoy whether or not they know about the game,” Chris Meledandri, CEO of Illumination, the animation studio producing the movie alongside Nintendo, told TooFab mag back when production of the film first started. “I’m not sure this is the smartest defense, but as a person who has Italian-American heritage, I feel I can make that decision without worrying about offending Italians or Italian-Americans…I think we’re going to be just fine.”
Alongside of Italian American gamers, John Leguizamo – the star of the first live action Super Mario Brose – raged recently and told Variety magazine that he would boycott the new film as it misses out on having Latino representation such as he. Does Leguizamo realize that he wasn’t Italian when he played a Mario Bros?
It’s just a game… movie… relax.
Then again, because Hollywood spends big on video game film franchises cause picky video game enthusiasts and non-Italian gamers to diss Duncan Jones’ Warcraft (2016), Street Fighter (1994), and Doom )2005) died at the box office, every professional in the gaming and filmmaking world remains cautious.
So why will Super Mario Bors Movie live, survive and thrive?
Chris Meledandri, the CEO of Illumination and one of several producers of the animated feature from Universal and Nintendo, told Variety that his team never witnessed this level of intensity from the audience in anticipation of a movie as 750 million people worldwide viewed the “Mario” trailers. And like every fan with childlike wonder, he was drawn to the project due to his own kids’ interactions with Mario and Luigi. “The impact of Mario in my life was watching my son’s joy,” Meledandri told Variety. “When you see your child light up, you are immediately pulled toward whatever it is that’s lighting them up.”
Beyond Meledandri’s children lighting up, it is adults who are thrilling to boisterous Mario and sheepish Luigi starting up their big plumbing business only to get sucked into dueling alternate universes – Mario in the wondrous Mushroom Kingdom, Luigi dragged into the scary Dark Lands. And the adventure continues with Seth Rogen and Jack Black, in particular, giving real emotional meat to their performances and pathos in their voices. If anyone is looking to sequels upon sequels (and yes, the closing credits scenes hint as much), the filmmakers would do fine to give Donkey Kong his own spin off, just as in the video game world.
Plus, the entire film – from its animation to its script- feels truly gleeful, and a pleasure to behold rather than… well, working hard to win at liking it as if you were in a video game. Variety critic Owen Gleiberman wrote that “Mario presides over a digital playground that lifts the spirit to a place of split-second wonder, and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” stays true to that. Its ingenuity is infectious. You don’t have to be a Mario fan to respond to it, but the film is going to remind the millions who are why they call it a joystick.”
Joy is the name of the game in Super Mario Bros Movie land. Don’t let John Leguizamo ruin that glee.