On Sept. 23, Nintendo announced that Chris Pratt would star in the new feature-length animated Super Mario Bros. movie set to release in Dec. 2022. The “Guardians of the Galaxy” star will voice the iconic Italian plumber in the film, co-produced with Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind “Despicable Me,” “Minions” and “The Secret Life of Pets.”
Right away, fans noticed the absurdity of casting Pratt, an actor who has A) no Italian accent and B) little voice-acting experience. Pratt’s landing of the coveted role puzzled those who speculated over casting before its announcement. Despite voicing Emmet in 2014’s “The Lego Movie,” the Marvel star’s recent history of taking serious action roles made this move a surprise.
The choice to have him deliver some of the franchise’s most iconic catchphrases like “It’s-a-me, Mario!” has left people on social media in varying mixtures of confusion, hilarity and disbelief. The announcement led some people to post on Twitter under the hashtag #NotMyMario in a slew of half-joking, half-serious tweets mocking Nintendo’s choice.
The title of one satirical article retweeted under the hashtag read, “Actor Chris Pratt has confirmed that he will play the role of Mario in his normal voice, stating ‘Mario isn’t Italian anymore. He’s normal now.’” Another user tweeted, “chris pratt playing mario is italiaphobia and i’m tired of acting like it isn’t.”
People’s objections to Pratt’s casting are threefold. First, fans are concerned Pratt won’t be able to live up to the iconic role, and that it will instead be cringey. Second, people don’t understand why Charles Martinet, the actor who’s voiced Mario since the ‘90s, was not selected instead. Finally, some believe Pratt’s personal controversies cast an unnecessary shadow over the production ahead of its release.
Pratt was just one of many celebrities in the cast, albeit the most notable. Thus, fans are concerned filmmakers are already prioritizing star power and name recognition over quality.
These concerns arise in a time where fans’ faith in big-budget adaptations is shaky at best. Following the recent uptick in video game to film adaptations, particularly those fraught with controversy before they even hit theaters, it is understandable that fans are nervous to leave the fate of their favorite childhood characters at Hollywood’s mercy.
Part of a Recent Trend
Remakes are currently the bread and butter of Hollywood, despite receiving consistently lower ratings than the films they’re based on. From live-action, CGI-reliant remakes of Disney Renaissance Era classics to the reboot of franchises like “Jurassic Park” — which ironically stars Pratt as well — studios are prioritizing reboots, sequels and adaptations across the board. This includes the recent surge of video game to film adaptations.
More advanced technology has improved these adaptations, but they still tend to fall flat. Nintendo itself released a “Super Mario Bros.” movie back in 1993 that grossed just under $39 million and garnered a not-so-stellar 24% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, the company is trying again, riding the coattails of more successful video game movies like “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Detective Pikachu.”
Studios know that remakes can turn a significant box office profit on fan loyalty alone, but the onslaught of mediocre and half-hearted video game films wears on fans’ trust. Studios can only abuse fan nostalgia and devotion so many times before it starts to impact sales.
Sonic Is the Exception to the Rule
Video game adaptations cause waves before they’re released due to the sheer amount of franchise fans. The social media snowball effect makes any film’s missteps highly visible and ripe for controversy.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” creators notoriously delayed its 2019 release in order to execute a post-production overhaul following negative feedback on the main character design. Once animators fixed Sonic’s design — particularly the humanlike teeth that had originally horrified fans — the movie had a successful $57 million dollar box office premiere and an eventual 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” director Jeff Fowler listened to feedback and delayed the film’s release to improve it, setting an admirable precedent, but fans of the genre are not always so empowered.
Are People Tired of the Star-Studded Cast?
Though most notable, Pratt is not the only household name celebrity in the film’s cast.” Charlie Day of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” will play Mario’s brother, Luigi, and Princess Peach will be voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy, the breakout star of “The Queen’s Gambit.” Jack Black will voice the villain Bowser, and even Seth Rogen will appear as Donkey Kong.
While Fred Armisen and Keegan-Michael Key — Cranky Kong and Toad, respectively — as well as Rogen, Day and Black all have comedy backgrounds to support their casting, it’s hard not to notice the gratuitous star-packing. Heavy reliance on name recognition could expose the studio’s insecurities around the film’s ability to stand on its own, which doesn’t inspire fans before its release.
Pratt’s Online Pratfall
Pratt has previously played beloved characters like Andy Dwyer from “Parks and Recreation” and Peter Quill from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” However, his personal reputation took a bruising following his divorce from Anna Faris and a Twitter meme naming him the “worst of the Chrises” in Hollywood.
While the Twitter poll started as a joke, the overzealous defense Pratt’s male “The Avengers” castmates gave him after Brie Larson’s conspicuous silence made people look closer into his personal life. Twitter users hunted for potential dirt, and the meme snowballed into widespread speculation about his political and religious beliefs.
Pratt belongs to Hillsong Church, a reportedly anti-LGBT religious organization. That membership and his absence at a Biden fundraiser attended by most of “The Avengers” cast led some people to believe Pratt was a homophobic, conservative Trump supporter. This accusation added plenty of fuel to the fire of post-casting announcement memes on Twitter.
Pratt weathered the minor scandals well and remains far from “canceled,” but many would still prefer a less controversial actor playing their favorite childhood video game character.
Why Not Just Cast the “Real Mario”?
Not only is Pratt a potentially polarizing lead, he’s also an arbitrary one. Pratt has won acclaim for his acting chops as a sympathetic, sometimes-quirky action hero, but nothing on his resume points to him being a good fit for Mario, much less the best. As one Twitter user stated, “The fact that Charles Martinet is not playing Mario is really bothering me. Mr. Martinet absolutely deserves to play the role he’s been playing for decades now.”
More than anything, people are frustrated that the role was not given to Martinet who, besides voicing Mario for three decades, has even voiced related characters like Luigi, Wario and Waluigi. According to Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the 56-year-old franchise veteran will still be connected to the production, but the extent of his involvement is unclear.
Pratt’s casting will not threaten the success of the Mario movie reboot, but it contributes to a trend of overcasting celebrity voice actors — one of the multiple stale gimmicks that continuously permeates the genre. It questions whether filmmakers understand the fanbases of the sources they adapt and why people love certain characters and stories.
Twitter user @zakskaz90 summed up reluctant fan anxiety and pre-release pessimism, saying, “I’m so sorry Chris Pratt but this is a terrible casting choice I don’t get why it’s not charles martinet who’s been the voice of Mario since 1995 I have a horrible feeling this film is gonna flop please don’t ruin Mario for me.”