Anyone familiar with Mario, from long-time fans of the game series to the millions of kids who have played him on any console from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the Nintendo Switch, has a preconceived notion of how Mario should sound. The filmmakers for the upcoming The Super Mario Bros. Movie could have tried running with what’s been working in the games for decades, a fun and completely ridiculous Italian stereotype that’s still rather lovingly embraced, but in all reality, that beloved video game voice probably wouldn’t work in a feature film for a variety of soon-to-be-addressed reasons. As for going with Chris Pratt, well, Hollywood movie studios are first and foremost a business looking to make money in as many countries around the globe as possible, and he’s a proven commodity all across the world. No real mystery there! Between Pratt and Charles Martinet, for instance, the answer as to who is more likely to put butts in seats is easily the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World star.
There have been several people who have voiced the legendary character over the years, between video games and other films, but it would be disingenuous to pretend that the previously mentioned Charles Martinet isn’t the one most Americans hear in their head when they think of the iconic “It’s-a me, Mario!” voice. His tenure first began back with 1992’s Super Mario Bros. pinball machine, but his first major debut in a major game was in 1996’s Super Mario 64, and he’s been living a double life as Mario since then. There were other notable Mario voices, such as Peter Cullen and Toru Furuya, but if Martinet wasn’t getting cast in the feature film, then their chances would best be described as non-existent. Some are definitely more passionately vocal about what they want in vocals they’re passionate about, but any petitions or Twitter polls ultimately came and went with no effect on the Pratt of it all.
Mario has a silly enough over-the-top accent while playing through a favorite Mario game, but it’s not exactly like he’s a verbose little guy busy talking the player’s ears off. Mario has no extended speeches or involved dialogue exchanges with others, as these games aren’t exactly Final Fantasy (and they’re all the better for it). An hour and a half of Mario’s video game voice in a movie, though, would most probably get fairly annoying to most non-children in the audience. Since a movie is an entirely different medium for telling a story, trying to simply port the same voice people love in short, controlled video game-friendly bursts would have been a failed combo.
Games, especially Mario games, don’t require much in the way of story or character arcs, while a film narrative is a completely separate beast that requires some kind of purpose. And yes, before being called a non-fan who doesn’t see the depth and meaning behind throwing different colored turtle shells at fire-breathing plants or saving Yoshi from falling to certain doom, the games do have involving stories, amusing characters, and endlessly enjoyable worlds for the player to spend countless hours playing through at their leisure. A Mario film is a very finite experience where the viewer is not a participant at all, however, and Mario is a character making his own choices, so of course sounding completely different goes a long way in making that distinction clearer (but hopefully not so far from what people love about it that it becomes forgotten Mario).
There’s also the fact that any actor doing such a hammy, over-the-top, and purposely bad “Italian” accent would probably need their apology video edited, queued up, and ready to go for the inevitable backlash. The outrage would likely be confined to a select few on Twitter, of course, but studios still seem to fear the Twitter masses and avoid the trouble wherever possible. While that obviously wasn’t why Bob Hoskins opted out of the Mario voice in the infamous 1993 bomb, it certainly couldn’t have made the movie that much worse. Marinet, who speaks fluent French and Spanish but no Italian, has been spared any accusations of cultural impropriety, however, so maybe everyone just accepts there’s no malicious intent to Mario. If this hypothetical actor were just as lucky to be spared any shouts of offense being taken, then the best case scenario is they simply wouldn’t measure up to Martinet’s own cartoonishly silly “Night nighty. Ahhh spaghetti, ahhh ravioli, ahhh mamma mia.” take on everyone’s favorite worlds-traveling Italian plumber. Either way, trying to emulate Mario’s unique video game voice would have been a losing battle. Speaking of losing battle, enter Chris Pratt.
Pratt as a-Mario
While bashing on Pratt for pretty much everything he does is definitely popular among some circles, likely by some of those outspoken Twitter folks who perhaps have a bit too much free time on their hands, he’s still a welcome and known commodity among general audiences. A quick look at Pratt’s blockbuster hit after blockbuster hit filmography of the last 10 years, among them another very successful animated film in The Lego Movie, was probably all some studio executives needed to be convinced. Until his movies start underperforming, or outright failing, Pratt will be one of Hollywood’s favorite go-to actors, because that’s just how this works. Hearing him as Mario might be a bitter pill for some to swallow, but anyone who is still actively mad about the voice and hoping for some kind of Sonic the Hedgehog-esque redesign by popular demand would be better off accepting the battle is done, it’ll be on the big screen in a matter of weeks, and to just try enjoying it for what it is instead of being mad for what it isn’t.
There’s also the angle that the main character in action adventure tales—which is an umbrella Mario mostly falls under—is often a bit of a void. Maybe it’s purposefully so the audience can fill in the lacking personality with their own thoughts or views, maybe it’s to maximize profits as a bland protagonist won’t offend anyone and can be sold more places, or maybe it’s just creative laziness. Whatever the reason, going with a fairly nondescript voice shouldn’t be much of a surprise to avid movie watchers.
More importantly, Mario not sounding the same as expected doesn’t immediately mean that’s a bad thing. If anything, going in with lowered hopes or expecting to be displeased might make The Super Mario Bros. Movie a fun surprise, so maybe the internet’s reliably persistent negativity about Mario’s voice will prove helpful after all.