By Emily Portalatin
Ah yes, April… not the most notable month of the year, but a fun month nonetheless with its fair share of holidays. There’s April Fool’s Day, but I personally refuse to be confined to one measly day of silliness. Who needs April Fools when I can shamelessly wear a metaphorical clown suit that jingles with each step every day of my life? And apparently April 4th is National Hug a Newsperson Day? Hopefully the Binghamton Review receives the hugs they deserve, or if they aren’t into that then hopefully people respect their personal space, I guess.
I am looking forward to what I hope will become a new April holiday come April 5, 2023: the release of The Super Mario Bros. Movie. For some time, there has been buzz for a movie dedicated to Super Mario Bros., one of the biggest video game franchises ever, starring that funny little Italian plumber guy alongside friends and foes from the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond. With promising trailers, an ad paying homage to the straight FIRE that is Mario’s The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! rap, and the release date inching closer, excitement has been building up. It was a bit of a fumble that the movie didn’t come out on March 10th, Mario Day, but I’m sure Illumination and Nintendo simply wanted to add yet another SPECTACULAR holiday to April’s catalog. As a player of Nintendo games and the uncool older sibling to a ten-year-old, I sure have been waiting for this movie.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is just one example of a video game movie, a genre increasing in prevalence in recent years. Specifically, I am referring to video game movies where the forefront of the plot is a game franchise that already exists. While movies moreso based on a fictional game exist and their plots can overlap with those of real games, movies for preexisting games feel like a bigger risk to take. With something like Wreck-it-Ralph, there are real game characters here and there, but not so closely related to the main plot that Disney could mess up the depiction. Meanwhile, every gamer and their mother is going to be mad if The Super Mario Bros. Movie botches Mario, which is partly why some have been worried about Chris Pratt voicing him. I honestly can’t tell how I feel about his voice based on the trailers; sometimes it just sounds like Pratt doing a slight New York accent, but occasionally he makes a sound or says a certain word and it DOES sound Mario-like. If you close your eyes and listen, his line “Mushroom Kingdom, here we come!” sounds like Linda Belcher from Bob’s Burgers which is funny I think.
Recently, movies about real video games have included examples such as Detective Pikachu, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. But I find it hard to compare these to the upcoming Mario movie, as they’re animated/live-action hybrids. This doesn’t mean they weren’t taking a risk; obviously, these are two very real game franchises and fans don’t want to be disappointed. However, the live-action aspects allow the story to be a bit looser in terms of lore. I thought these movies were okay, but some fans may be left wanting more game-based action upon watching, and not just to gasp at each nostalgic character that appears on-screen for most of the runtime. While those movies were good enough, they’re also just game-themed additions to the “CGI creature and generic man” family movie trope that I’m personally sick of seeing.
So what would Mario’s movie be more comparable to? The Angry Birds Movie, or maybe… Minions? That’s a sobering thought for reasons I’ll touch on later, but they are all fully animated movies dedicated to the world and lore of a franchise, although Minions obviously isn’t video-game related. Movies like The Angry Birds Movie and its sequel were able to play around with their story, but they likely had to be slightly more careful with that in their own world without any interdimensional human stuff. But to be honest, I’m sure people were much less worried about Angry Birds having accurate lore and worthy depictions in their movie than they are toward Mario and his colossal franchise.
Video game movies based on real games have technically been a thing since the 1990s, but they haven’t been very good. The Rotten Tomatoes critic’s scores of most of these movies didn’t even get close to reaching 40%, and the audience scores weren’t much better. Nowadays, video game movies have generally received Rotten Tomatoes percentages in the 40-60% range, besides a few outliers, which is better than what it was! But clearly, it could be better.
I don’t want Mario to fall into the trap of simply being adequate, but sometimes I wonder what I should really expect. A wise suitemate once said, “He’s an Italian plumber! What else can you ask of a man?” While that’s so true, I am still asking, begging, PLEADING for this movie not to be bad. Just because this is animated and partially intended for children doesn’t mean someone such as myself should not be able to enjoy it for what it is, especially with how generational the Mario franchise has been. We need to stop equating animation and video games with “childish” things that don’t take effort, because they do take effort, and it shows when you play a great game or watch a great movie!
While worries about the movie’s quality have crossed my mind, there is reason to have hope that this could be a good, maybe even great, movie. For one, the cast seems pretty solid. Jack Black is seemingly the perfect casting choice for Bowser, on par with Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik in Sonic the Hedgehog, and the rest of the cast also seems well-picked based on the trailers. Although… I’m still slightly worried about Chris Pratt as Mario. While I understand Mario does not talk as much in the games and Pratt needed to alter the plumber’s voice to complement an entire movie, I hope it’s not too close to his regular voice. Maybe his charisma will make up for any vocal shortcomings and make his Mario sound better than it is. Regardless, I’ve got my eye on you, Pratt.
Speaking of Crisp Rat, while the announcement of his role as Mario sparked plenty of memes, luckily this and the trailers have not generated many memes on the “Uh…meow?” level of borderline ridicule. The visuals look great too; the bright colors and impressive animation bring Mario’s universe to life vividly and will make for a mesmerizing ninety minutes, not to mention all the callbacks and references to the Mario games they implemented! Still have yet to see Gay Bowser though 🙁 . I also hope they do well with the soundtrack, because Nintendo’s video game music usually slaps to the point of scratching an itch in my brain I never knew existed.
Another aspect of the movie that brings me hope is Nintendo’s heavy involvement in its production. Mario is Nintendo’s poster child! I suspect they would be working hard to uphold his reputation, lest he become some joke after the movie. And yes, I KNOW a big driver for making this kind of movie is often nostalgia-fueled profit, but if Sega was willing to spend millions extra to fix Ugly Sonic, it is clear that Nintendo would have the same care if not more for their star. Mario games have been getting better and better, so I’d hope the movie keeps up this momentum.
I guess my final worry besides the movie’s quality is how theatergoers will act when it finally releases. Maybe I’m overthinking, but Illumination is the animation studio behind The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a fact which could cause chaos if one recalls what happened with Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru last summer. Minions had already been a huge meme for years, but the newest Minions installment added even more fuel to the fire, leading throngs of teens to dress in fancy attire just to see it. This was completely harmless, at least until some of these “gentleminions” had to spoil the fun by becoming actively disruptive, yelling during the entire movie, and throwing objects. Illumination in general is clowned on quite a bit, and this was the result.
Mario’s trailers and announcements have been generating memes, especially about Pratt, but not quite to the mocking, ironic extent that others like the Minions reached. However, the movie is still an animated, somewhat silly-looking product of Illumination based on a HUGE franchise, which could attract disruptive crowds if similar trends carry over. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some uptight Nintendo connoisseur who graduated from Gamer University with a Degree in Gatekeeping; I know this movie is meant to be a fun time (and Gamer University rejected me anyway). But people forget that folks have been enjoying this video game franchise for generations, and unwarranted chaos will ruin the experience for kids and adults alike. It’s one thing if the movie sucks; if the movie sucks AND people completely disrupt the viewing experience, it’s almost like losing twice, getting nothing from the excursion at all! This behavior also just feels like a side effect of ol’ quarantine. It’s similar to how concert etiquette seems to be at a low lately (STOP calling Mitski “mommy” at her shows! There’s NO way she gave birth to ALL of you!). Maybe quarantine isn’t the sole cause—I’m not sure people had much etiquette before quarantine anyway—but sometimes it feels like everyone’s pent-up emotions have been running wild from 2021 to now. I’m just hoping for a normal, fun viewing experience without feeling like I’ve wasted my money for one reason or another.
While we shouldn’t take this movie too seriously, there are valuable things riding on its success. This is not the first video game movie based on a real game by any means, but the success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie can allow the video game movie genre to take more chances, expand, and improve. Perhaps Nintendo could make movies for their other video game creations. These games have amazing stories that Nintendo could someday tell on the big screen if all goes well, but these movies are still considered a bit of a risk, so only time (and the box office) will tell. If it’s done right, a Nintendo Cinematic Universe would have more impact on me than a single Marvel movie ever could.
So let’s have hope—and some cautious optimism—for the quality of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the theater etiquette of fellow Mario enjoyers, and the potential of video game movies. If anyone needs me, I’ll be celebrating this new holiday by sitting in the movie theater wearing my Princess Peach closet cosplay, at least until the employees realize I’ve been there for weeks and forcibly remove me from the premises. Wahoo!