The general consensus surrounding Illumination’s upcoming Super Mario movie is that it is going to be terrible. Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, and Anya Taylor-Joy are destined to bastardise our precious source material with depictions of these characters that rip out their heart and soul. Such fears are justified, but what happens if it’s really good?
Nintendo is directly involved, and our cultural derision for Minions aside, Illumination is an animation studio with a fairly consistent track record. When creating a child-friendly Mario film with universal appeal, there isn’t really a better choice out there. DreamWorks could have a punt, but Disney has already shuttered Blue Sky, so here we are waiting for the first trailer to a film that threatens to bring about the gaming apocalypse. Bring it on I say.
It could take inspiration from the Playmobil movie and present a more meta interpretation of the universe, or have Charles Martinet narrate a more ambitious adventure in this universe that gives voices to characters who – aside from Super Mario Sunshine – have largely been silent, one-dimensional personalities. As a franchise, Mario has universal appeal for all ages that always tries to be fun, wholesome, and innovative. It’s easy to determine what that means in the world of gaming, and how each new title must both push the boat out and cater to our eternal nostalgia for the charming plumber. In films, that expectation is different.
Movies based on video games aren’t normally very good. They aim to interpret existing characters and stories from a medium where our continued agency and investment is required to help them shine. If the foundation isn’t strong enough in the first place, a film probably isn’t going to work. Uncharted was fine, but took from the best parts of the games, while shows such as Resident Evil want to do something new but fail spectacularly. It is only when the adaptation is distanced on such a fundamental level with shows like Castlevania or Cyberpunk 2077: Edgerunners that it tends to work wonders. Super Mario could nail this approach with the right direction, and the pitch is obscene enough that it has real potential.
The cast announcement still feels like a fever dream. I was recording live reactions with a few colleagues for TheGamer Podcast, and we all lost our minds as the increasingly bizarre cast was revealed with the utmost seriousness. It felt silly at the time, but from the cynical perspective of a Hollywood executive wanting to adapt one of the biggest video game characters on the planet, throwing a list of high-profile actors at the project and hoping for the best is something we’ve seen countless times before. Chris Pratt isn’t a good choice for Mario, but the man has proven himself in animated films before, while Day, Rogen, and Black are weirdly perfect for their respective characters. It’s much too early to call the movie a failure, and we don’t know enough about either the plot or performances to write it off.
I’ll wait until the first trailer to cast my judgement, since Illumination has the talent and understanding of the modern landscape to create a film that capitalises on Mario’s final properties while boasting unparalleled marketing potential. There is definitely going to be a Minion cameo and we will roll our eyes as the crew communicate in banana speak for a few precious seconds, and there will be plenty of cringe to go around besides that.
But it’s a kid’s film, not an Oscar contender designed for the older gamers who grew up with the series. In a perfect world it would ride the line and appeal to all audiences, but even if it doesn’t, there would have to be a catastrophic misunderstanding amidst production for this to completely suck. Time will tell, but I’d rather be excited for this silly project instead of focusing all my energy on hateful memes. Chris Pratt is still a giant bellend, but he could be a good Mario.
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