Picture yourself sitting in a movie theater. A trailer begins for an upcoming animated film from Illumination. Being a Marvel fan, you recognize Starlord’s voice reverberating through the theater, saying, “It’s-a me! Mario!” This garners a reaction of slight confusion, but not necessarily surprise from you and other people in the audience.
Yes, it’s official; “Super Mario Bros: The Movie,” is in production and set to come out in the winter of 2022. The movie was in discussion for years now, but the cast list released during a recent Nintendo Direct has been the focal point of social media buzz since it’s airing on Sept. 23.
Nintendo fans would first question why Charles Martinet wasn’t cast in the leading role, seeing as he’s voiced both Mario and Luigi for decades now. While his work is much appreciated by gaming fans, let’s be real; it’s one thing to hear a few phrases in that voice, but an entire movie of it would get grating quickly. After all, Martinet is apparently still getting a well-deserved cameo in the film as a currently unknown side character.
It’s not so much a case of Martinet not reprising his most famous role, but rather a heated discussion of voice acting versus screen acting. This has been an ongoing debate for years now, but it seems like this reveal was the final straw.
The disappointment stems almost entirely from the choice of Chris Pratt to play Mario. While Mario has been an established character for decades, he was always meant to be the titular silent video game protagonist. Meaning, he’s the generic hero. It’s only fair the generic star of today would get to play him to really get the public’s attention.
Shigeru Miyamoto, creator and developer of Super Mario Bros., even described Pratt as, “so cool” when reading out the cast list.
Strategically, this choice makes sense. Pratt has been one of Hollywood’s most warmly regarded ‘poster boys’ as of late thanks to his breakout role as Andy Dwyer in “Parks & Recreation”. He’s perhaps most famously known as Peter “Starlord” Quill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
He’s usually cast as the upbeat, comedic everyman character who isn’t afraid to kick some ass once in a while. At first glance, this could actually fit an animated film interpretation of Mario pretty well.
Yet, in regard to his roles in animated movies before this like “The Lego Movie,” or “Onward”, the public’s main problem arises; he’s basically just playing himself.
This isn’t a new trend for casting choices in animated films. In fact, people seem to look forward to Jack Black as the over-the-top villain, Bowser, for that exact reason! But it begs the question: where do people draw the line?
Voice actors and screen actors had little intersectionality until Disney’s 1992 smash-hit film “Aladdin,” starring the late Robin Williams as Genie. Rather than play a straightforward interpretation of the genie in the Arabian Nights folktale, Williams put his own spin on the performance by playing basically an exaggerated version of himself.
With bombastic vocal deliveries and tongue-in-cheek impressions, William’s Genie stole the film and revitalized the voice acting industry as a whole. Actors realized they had just as much potential in voice acting as they did for the screen.
Voice actors are usually limited in how they express themselves in a performance compared to their on-screen counterparts. Screen actors have to simultaneously be in control of many different aspects of their own bodies and the environment around them. Conversely, voice actors have to focus just on their voice; ensuring it’s the right pace, diction, and emotion to fit the scene they’re making it for.
If an actor is only familiar with doing on-screen performances, they focus more on their body language than their voice. A trend with ‘stars’ in animated films that aren’t used to voice acting is that their performances come off as ingenuine. Fortunately, this trend seems to be fizzling out for big-budget productions.
On the bright side, none of the actors in the cast list for this film come off as mediocre. Odd? For sure. Cliche? Definitely.
Considering all this, it’s an animated family film about a famous video game character produced by Illumination. I think it’ll catch the target demographics just fine, including the ones that want to hear Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong and Keegan-Michael Key as Toad.
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