Extra Punctuation returns as a video series, and in this first episode, Yahtzee discusses how Nintendo‘s Super Mario is a brand, not a character.
Extra Punctuation Transcript
So you may remember the last Nintendo Direct brought the let’s-charitably-call-it interesting news that a Mario movie is scheduled for release in 2022 and that Chris Pratt will be playing the lead. And the buzz online was immediate. I myself half-arsedly put out a three word tweet in response as soon as I heard and it quickly became probably my highest rated tweet in years. I don’t know what it takes to be social media popular these days, but apparently it doesn’t involve thinking very hard.
I get the impression people were a bit thrown by the casting probably because Chris Pratt is almost the precise opposite of a squeaky-voiced blue collar moustachioed Italian pygmy. But of course the smallest amount of research reveals that obviously this is going to be a CG animated movie. They already tried the live action route and as far as dream casting goes the Bob Hoskins lightning was never going to strike twice. I mean, he’s dead, for a start.
So Chris Pratt will presumably just be doing the voice. And once that was understood, the most frequent opinion I sensed floating around regarding the casting was that nobody really had an opinion. I mean, if they’d announced they’d got Daniel Day-Lewis in that would have sparked conversation. Hell, it might have convinced me to watch it. But Chris Pratt… well, he’s a big name, yeah, but his acting has never exactly set the screen alight, has it. He’s like the moon. Big and bright and round-faced and every now and again you look up and go “Oh, that’s still there,” and then pay it no further thought.
His casting does imply that they’re going for some utterly bland white bread generic male voice for Mario for the sake of maximum broadness of appeal. And if so, what annoys me about that is that Mario has an established voice. An iconic one, even. This isn’t like how it was in the 90s where all we had to go on was chiptunes and pixelart and the Mario TV and movie adaptations had to invent from whole cloth that the Mario Brothers are from Brooklyn and have voices like you’d expect from blue collar immigrant workers with a side interest in backyard wrestling. Video games have acquired voice acting since then. We’ve all been listening to Charles Martinet’s high-pitched heavily accented interpretation of the character for decades. Does none of that mean anything?
Is this yet more evidence for the rampant disrespect the film industry has towards video games? That anything video games have established doesn’t count until those big bollocked film people come in and do things properly? Maybe films should mind their fucking manners since video games have been making more money than them for some time now and didn’t even have to trick people into buying entire wheelbarrowfuls of popcorn to do it.
Actually maybe it’s the much more reasonable explanation that Martinet’s pasta-related shrieking is a lot more palatable when used to drive home important gameplay concepts like don’t fall in the lava you stupid git, and are less nice when you have to listen to it for two hours and engage with the character. But doesn’t that rather illustrate the inherent issue with any Mario adaptation, and in indeed most video game adaptations – that Mario is one hundred percent a video game character. The voice and the powerups and the little stubby legs with the jumping power of an industrial spring – none of it makes any sense outside the medium of video games. To make a film you’ve either got to fill in so many blanks that you’re just making whatever the hell you want with the names slapped onto it – as in the Bob Hoskins adventure – or you need to be ironic and self-referential to show that you’re in on the joke.
And let’s face it, it’s going to do the second one, isn’t it. Casting Jack Black and Seth Rogen as Bowser and Donkey Kong respectively has the unmistakeable stench of irony about it. Because that’s what every CG fun for all the family lopsided smirk on the movie poster animated comedy does these days, isn’t it. Put on that slightly condescending Star Trek Lower Decks “Ooh look at us disaffected Zoomers of the world, we’re completely jaded as well, buy our products” smug facade of irreverence. Based on absolutely nothing I’m picturing the movie going in a Wreck-It Ralph direction where Mario starts off doing his cartoonish high-pitched voice and then the moment the player switches off reverts to normal boring Chris Pratt American accent man as all the characters shuffle off to the green room for the night.
The funny thing is, if they did that, it wouldn’t be a million miles away from what passes for canon where Mario is concerned. Ever since Super Mario 3 opened with a red curtain rising to reveal the title screen, Mario games all being theatrical productions rather than genuine do-or-die hostage rescues has practically been the semi-official explanation for why Mario and Bowser can be mortal enemies one minute and go-karting buddies the next. Jack Packard and I formulated a little theory in one of our Slightly Civil War podcasts, actually – that maybe Bowser kidnapping the princess is actually a good-natured sporting event between the two rival kingdoms, perhaps to commemorate some past conflict, and Mario’s journey across several themed worlds to rescue her is the equivalent of the Olympic torch ceremony? I mean, why else does he always go through several themed worlds, instead of Raccoon-tailing straight to Bowser’s castle? Same reason they don’t use a zippo to light the Olympic torch.
So you could do something meta with Mario dropping the act at the end of the show and wondering if there is any real meaning to his life, and that would actually be pretty true to the character. But even as that sentence leaves my mouth I realise the futility of speculation or indeed any conversation surrounding a fucking Mario movie. “True to the character?” Mario has been a doctor, a golfer, a typing tutor, he crossed over with Raving Rabbids once – Mario has no character. Mario is a logo. To be put on lunchboxes and pillowcases to make money. They could make a historical drama about the crossing of the Delaware, stick a red hat on George Washington and call it a Mario Movie and it would be just as true to the character as anything else.
You know damn well none of this really matters. It doesn’t matter if Chris Pratt was a smart casting choice. It doesn’t matter if the production’s a dumpster fire or even if the eventual film makes any money. None of it matters because they’ve already won. They won the moment we devoted any amount of brain power to this topic. When I wasted an afternoon writing about it and you wasted five minutes listening to me about it instead of seeking a better life or folding your laundry. How long has it been sitting there, incidentally? You think it’s gonna fold itself, asshole?