How to make a Super Mario Movie

There have been awful, terrible rumours for a while that American film studios have been very interested in making a Super Mario movie. I, like most people, have pushed these thoughts far to the back of my mind. Because, as we all know; movies based on video games are terrible. Then it happened, no amount of denial was ever going to keep this idea from coming to fruition it seems, and Universal Pictures have apparently secured a deal to make a Super Mario movie. And which Studio is making it? Illumination Entertainment. Yes, that’s right. The people behind the Minions might be making a Mario movie.

Okay, okay. Let’s not jump the gun just yet. In a recent financial Q&A session, Shigeru Miyamoto stated that this project is still in talks and if neither company can agree on a direction for the project then they have no issue canning the entire thing. “Calling it quits” were the words used. Before you think you know where this is going, I’m not exactly against the idea of there being a western made movie based on Nintendo’s mascot. It’s just that when it comes to combining these properties with kid’s movies, things don’t tend to go well for anyone.

The most recent example that comes to mind would be The Angry Birds movie. Or, while not a video game necessarily, the Emoji movie. Where these do differ slightly is that they feel like pure cash grab schemes. Movies that came out to capitalise on a trend. There was no real thought or passion or care put into these movies, or at least not enough to redeem them.

The main problem with these two movies, at least, is that they don’t promote any positive message. The Angry Birds movie is, in broad strokes about promoting insular behaviour, being distrustful of foreigners and is full of borderline sexist jokes. Many parents complained that there were too many risqué lines that didn’t feel like they served a purpose.

You don’t need to put off colour, adult humour in your movie to make it something adults can enjoy. Pixar have made movies that everyone enjoys for a long time and they do it without making pop culture references or double entendres. The trick here, and stay with me, is that they know how to make genuinely good, heartfelt movies. Not populist crap.

To touch upon it briefly. The Emoji Movie is incredibly consumerist, being full of product placement for all kinds of services and social media apps on phones, which is pretty insidious for a movie aimed at kids. And its take away message seems to be “You can be anything you want to be, you don’t have to conform to roles assigned for you by society. Unless you’re a girl, then you’re a pretty princess now and forever.”

We like to get hung up on the bad movies though, mainly because they’re more fun to talk about. There are plenty of examples of really good kids movies to take inspiration from though. Pixar’s stuff and Disney’s Animation Studios are both mostly all killer at the moment. The Lego Movie also shows you can make a good movie based on a product too.

So. What to do with a Super Mario movie. There are a number of directions that Illumination could go when making it. The problem is that most of them will spark criticism. Even basic questions raised about this potential movie spark debate. Will Mario talk in it, will Princess Peach be an active character or just get kidnapped by Bowser like always, should she get kidnapped at all.

How much can you play with a decades old formula though for the sake of old fashioned ideas of gender roles in media. It would better to not touch on Peach as the chronic kidnapping victim at all, but it’s a time worn tradition of the series. So why make a Mario movie at all if you’re not going to include its tropes and traditions.

Then you’ve got the question of what kind of movie do you even make. Would the story be a more classic tale in the vein of the main line Super Mario Series. Traveling between worlds and having a final confrontation with Bowser. I personally hope not. The very video gamey nature of that kind of story doesn’t transition to to movies well at all. And while it’s the most obvious direction, I hope the urge to take this easy path is resisted.

Then there’s the “invasion from the real world angle”. This is the direction the live action movie from 1993 took, the one starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, y’know that one. It’s also the angle that Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle took. And I actually think one of these worked quite well, despite having absolutely no right to do so. It’s the one that was a video game, just to clue you in.

It’s a decent proof of concept actually. As Rabbids are basically Minions, and you still get to have Mario and Luigi as the mute heroes while all the actual plot and action take place around them. That’s the kind of movie I would like to see to be honest: a movie where Mario and Luigi are mostly silent, with a sporadic “Yahoo” and “Oh No” from the pair.

The bulk of the dialogue can come from the supporting characters and the real world outsiders. That way it keeps the Mario character “intact” and we don’t get another Mario with a heavy New York accent. Because let’s be real, Charles Martinet needs to voice this.

Taking those ideas into account, I feel like the best version of a Super Mario movie for me would be one that takes inspiration from the Mario RPGs. Like Paper Mario and the Mario & Luigi RPG series. These games plop the pair into a new world, filled with new characters and bizarre scenarios. Most of the entertainment comes from the weird situations and exaggerated characters that they encounter along the way.

The writing for these games has always been really good. I’d hope that Illumination would make a slightly smarter movie in this vein.

I’d be happy for Mario and Luigi to pantomime their way through the movie. They’re the faces of the film, but ultimately they’ve been little more than silent protagonists for the most part. Luigi has developed far more character than Mario in the franchise, but the RPG series still manage to convey a lot for both of them with basically no spoken lines from them.

But If I’m totally honest, I’d be surprised if Nintendo allow Illumination to make this anything beyond light and cheerful fluff. Mario games have always been lands of very light peril, it rarely seems like things are actually dire situations. Even in the most recent game, Mario was thrown from an airship by Bowser as Peach was away to forced into marriage. Minutes later, Mario was jumping around with a huge “Yippiee!”.

I know I bang on about movie studios being risk-averse, but when it comes to kid’s movies, parents seem to have a much lower threshold for entering a stage of total outrage. Look at the drama that surrounded that recent Peter Rabbit movie. A character is pelted with blackberries by bullies because they are allergic to them, one goes into his mouth and they have to use an epipen.

People were livid. It was disgraceful. It made light of dangerous food allergies… It was also a movie, and movies contain conflict. Otherwise they’re just 90 minutes of nothing. While I don’t expect people to start boycotting a Mario movie because it promotes cruelty to turtles, you can imagine why a studio like Illumination having this in their mind, whilst also having to deal with Nintendo micromanaging every decision they make to keep their brand on point.

While I would like to see a series of these movies, all dealing with new and unique situations. Cleverly written and sarcastic in their self referential humour and dialogue. Like the Mario & Luigi RPG series. If I were to put money onto it, I can see the movie being a very traditional affair if it ever happens. Which could still turn out fine, but I feel this movie will ultimately be very middle of the road to keep everyone concerned happy. There are just too many variables for this movie to take any risky moves in the slightest, and that would end up being its ultimate downfall.

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