Do you remember what life was like before Nintendo dropped the first trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the film poised to be the most talked about video game adaptation of the 2020s, the one that will come to define this era of what’s likely to be mostly terrible video game movies and a few good ones? I wish I did.
For over two minutes, Jack Black hams it up as the evil Bowser, who fries up some penguins in the trailer, while our titular plumber (Chris Pratt) tries to get his footing in the Mushroom Kingdom with the help of Toad (Keegan-Michael Key). Mario seems far from the platforming king we know him to be at the start of the trailer, which may just come down to balancing issues caused by his lack of ass.
But according to Nintendo fans reacting in real time on social media, Mario’s anatomy is far from the most offensive part of this trailer. As they see it, the biggest crime of the upcoming Mario movie comes down to who’s voicing the Mushroom Kingdom’s greatest hero. Pratt, a fan-favorite Parks & Rec alum who skyrocketed to stardom with prominent roles in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Star-Lord and in the Jurassic World franchise, just doesn’t measure up, especially after you hear the voice he’s chosen for the traditionally Italian-sounding video game icon.
On the one hand, it’s a relief that Pratt, Nintendo, and animation studio Illumination chose to avoid the hate crime. Pratt, who’s from Minnesota, probably shouldn’t be chasing an exaggerated Italian accent for the LOLs. But the alternative isn’t much better, say fans, after the trailer revealed that the movie’s version of Mario just sounds like…Pratt.
It doesn’t help that Pratt set high expectations when he described to Variety in June the process he claims he went through to land on his version of Mario, which now sounds like a bad joke.
“I worked really closely with the directors and trying out a few things and landed on something that I’m really proud of and can’t wait for people to see and hear,” said Pratt.
Nintendo is clearly following the classic Hollywood playbook here by attaching a famous movie star to voice their silly video game movie, a well-known name who will get butts in seats at the theaters next year, while also avoiding being insensitive to an entire culture of people who might not appreciate Pratt pulling out a cartoonish accent.
“When people hear Chris Pratt’s performance, the criticism will evaporate, maybe not entirely — people love to voice opinions, as they should,” producer Chris Meledandri told Deadline, addressing concerns about Pratt’s casting in the upcoming movie. “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.”
The problem is that even if Pratt’s voice acting were impeccable here (and the phoned-in lines in the trailer clearly aren’t), for droves of fans, the actor’s biggest offense isn’t his performance at all but the fact that he’s replacing an absolute video game legend. Now that they’ve heard what Pratt’s bringing to the table, many are asking why Nintendo didn’t just stick with Charles Martinet, the brilliant actor who’s voiced Mario since the early 1990s?
They have a point. Second only to the design of the character itself, Martinet’s performance is easily the most iconic aspect of the character. You’ve likely heard Martinet’s lines quoted in regular conversation all your life, you’ve heard it on television, and spoofed in countless movies. Martinet’s voice is what you hear in your head when you think of Mario — and perhaps video games in general if you’re of a certain age.
Most importantly, Martinet is a genuinely beloved figure in the industry, someone who has made a career out of bringing family-friendly characters to life. If Mario is THE video game character, the face that represents the genre as a whole, Martinet is THE voice. It’s easy to see why some fans feel not casting Martinet for a big screen take on Mario is a massive snub. Especially when Pratt is clearly doing the very least to make the character his own.
Martinet will still appear in the film, but as a cameo, not a main role, despite being a master of his craft and boasting much more vocal range than Pratt, if not most of the well-known cast in the movie. At least to this writer, that’s just rubbing salt into the wound.
But Martinet is being a good sport about his role in Mario’s future on the big screen: “I’m excited about the film, I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” Martinet told The Digital Fix. “You know, anytime you’re an artist, and you get the call to come and play in the sandbox, it’s unforgettably wonderful and magnificent.”
After hearing what Pratt’s come up with, many wish Martinet had gotten the call this time around, too.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is out on April 7, 2023.