It has been nearly 25 years since the release of the beautiful trash fire that was the original Super Mario Bros. movie. A live-action buddy comedy of sorts, it bore little resemblance to the NES or SNES games, using the license freely to create a seedy underworld headed by Dennis Hopper. It was abysmal, and it’s often used as an example of why we shouldn’t keep making video game movies. However, Nintendo seems to think it can right its past wrongs with a new animated Mario movie, produced by Despicable Me studio Illumination.
With recent video game adaptations not faring particularly well – with the notable exception of the Castlevania anima series – expectations aren’t especially high for the Mario film. Still, if Illumination and Nintendo follow a few rules and include the best elements from Mario’s various games, they could still produce a worthwhile adventure for viewers (and players) of all ages.
Here is what we want to see in the new Mario movie.
Show, don’t tell
Largely by necessity, early Super Mario games didn’t include much in the way of dialogue. Aside from Toad informing Mario that Princess Peach was in another castle, Nintendo instead told its story through the environments Mario explored, his battles against Bowser, and the power-ups he discovered. Even as technology has advanced enough for the games to feature long expositions and monologues, Nintendo has kept them to a minimum. Mario’s facial expressions and the actions of those around him are more than enough to make his motivations clear.
We only need to look at Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo in the 1993 film to determine that the Mario Bros. don’t really have that much going on in their head, nor does anyone else in the Mushroom Kingdom. Illumination’s magic has always been in its non-verbal storytelling, with The Secret Life of Pets being a notable example, and this makes it the perfect company to capture the simple tale of Mario and his friends.
Keep the voice actors from the games
When video game franchises make the move to the big screen, the producers often like to swap out their voice actors in favor of more recognizable stars. We saw this in the Lego Movie, where Troy Baker was replaced by Will Arnett in the role of Batman, and though Camilla Luddington does an excellent job as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, she was swapped out for Alicia Vikander in the new film.
But neither Baker nor Luddington are as identifiable as Charles Martinet, who has been voicing Mario, Luigi, and Wario – among other characters – for more than 20 years. When people hear “Mario,” Martinet’s famous “it’s a me!” line instantly comes to mind, and replacing him with a bigger name would all but cripple the film. As mentioned earlier, his lines should be limited, with characters around him such as Peach able to say full sentences, but Martinet’s genuine optimism and joy are absolutely irreplaceable.
Don’t mix in other Nintendo franchises
Nintendo began mixing its series together with the Super Smash Bros. games, which, eventually, threw other companies’ characters into the mix. With Mario Kart 8’s downloadable content, the racing game brought in Zelda’s Link and the Villager from Animal Crossing, turning it into more of a “Nintendo Kart.” For games like these that don’t rely on story – or don’t have a story at all – this isn’t a very big deal, but in a 90-minute Mario movie, introducing too many characters will drag the whole production down. We don’t need Donkey Kong, we don’t need Wart from Super Mario Bros. 2, and, as much as it pains me to say it, we don’t need Waluigi. Should this film be successful, there will be plenty of time for other projects involving those characters.
A story focused on the key characters like Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, and Yoshi still gives Illumination and Nintendo plenty of creative freedom. We don’t have to watch Mario rescue Peach from Bowser – the games have already beaten that dead horse enough. Bowser could put aside his differences with the Mushroom Kingdom to take on a new threat – perhaps one new character – to help the film stand apart from the games.
Show off famous locations, but don’t let them drag the film down
The great thing about the Mushroom Kingdom, and the Mario universe more broadly, is there really aren’t very many set locations and there are even fewer rules for what can be a level. Fire and lava-filled dungeons, icy, windy mountaintops, and haunted houses filled with ghosts are seen in nearly every game, and this level of variety could help to keep the Mario movie interesting without needing dialogue or a huge twist. The producers shouldn’t feel like they have to follow this precise formula, however, as creative new areas in the film could eventually inspire the game designers for future Switch projects.
That being said, there are a few famous locations that we’d love to see on the big screen. The first of these is Peach’s castle as it appeared in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Odyssey. It’s an iconic building capable of bringing back memories in a wave of nostalgia almost instantly, and, even if it’s just seen in the background, it would please older fans. It would be even better if Mario used one of the castle’s paintings to transport himself to a new, original location, perhaps via a secret room that wasn’t accessible in the Nintendo 64 or Switch games.
The famous World 1-1 is also an absolute necessity for any Mario film worth its salt. There’s no getting around this one – it has to factor into the story in some way – and it would be a great nod to the parents who are introducing their children to the Mario series for the first time. The stage is just as iconic and impactful now as it was in 1985, and it would serve as the perfect example of why Mario has continued to be one of the most beloved series in gaming for more than 30 years.