Mario's_Greatest_Movie_MomentsThis is a little late in coming, but so it goes.

Back in December 2014, one of the stories spun out of the hacking of Sony Pictures’ e-mails is that they, along with producer Avi Arad (who has a fairly impressive resume), are interested in acquiring the rights to Super Mario Bros. for a new movie. Following the word getting out, Arad noted that the negotiations with Nintendo were “just the beginning,” so at this point, only time will tell how far any of this goes– be it with Sony, or with another studio.

At this point, I’d just like to note that I’m pretty sure we’re all well and fully aware of the irony of Sony possibly making a Mario movie.

To this news, “MovieBob” Chipman has given his own thoughts on his Escapist show “The Big Picture,” noting that while it seems that the idea being pursued is for an animated picture, he disagrees that is what the production should be, expressing his belief that live action is the way to go for this. Following the box-office bomb that was Hollywood Pictures’ (a Disney subsidiary) Super Mario Bros. movie, it’s strange to hear anyone outside of the cult following surrounding that picture actually express such a notion, but there it is.

On his personal website, upon which he has posted his own pitch for how a new live action Mario movie, he reiterates:

The one thing that disheartens me about the Sony/Mario rumor (apart from the obvious) is that the plan was apparently to make an animated franchise out of it. Sorry, no thanks. Not that I have anything against animation – quite the opposite, in fact – but more that it doesn’t feel like the “event” that an authentic Mario feature deserves. Simply put: Mario has been animated, either as a sprite or as a TV cartoon, for as long as the series has existed. This is one of the biggest icons in modern popular-culture – the Mickey Mouse of video-games – he and his world deserve to “come to life” as big and extravagantly as, say, THE AVENGERS did.

I’ve been imagining what a live-action Mario would be like for decades – usually in-earnest in response to the somewhat perplexing idea that the property can’t possibly work in live-action (and yet somehow Oz, Narnia, Wonderland, Middle Earth, Asgard etc have worked just fine?) So I figured it was time to sit down and actually type out an off-the-cuff version of how I’d pitch this project if I ever got the chance, rather than reciting pieces of it whenever the topic comes up.

I was poised to respond to this in his comments when I realized it might work just as well here… that is, before I got sidetracked. Nonetheless…

Regarding why people want Mario as a cartoon instead of live action, I don’t think it’s so much because one is “more” or “less” valid than the other or anything like that, I think it’s simply a matter of style. The Legend of Zelda has translated well to live action depictions, because– anime trappings aside– much of it is in line with what’s considered realistic. That is, aesthetically speaking, of course. That’s probably why people seem a little more open to the rumored Zelda live action series on Netflix.

Mario, however? He doesn’t translate to realism nearly as well as Zelda would. Far less so, really. His head is the size of at least half the rest of his body (or about one-third, for the mathy folks reading), he has a huge nose… simply put, he’s a cartoon character in a cartoon world, and not in the same way that Batman or Spider-Man are. Trying to make him in live action is essentially like making a live-action Mickey Mouse film not with a CGI version of the character, a la Alvin and The Chipmunks or Garfield, but by making him look like an actual mouse.

Heck, even in the two examples I just named, they stretched as far as they could to marry the cartoon designs to real world aesthetics without breaking, and… well, what we got is what we got.

You can do live action Mario and company, sure. But even as a kid, when I looked at Captain Lou and Danny Wells sporting the overalls…

smbsupershow

I enjoyed those segments, though not as much as I would as an adult (go figure), but I always knew it just felt off. Mario in live action is essentially a caricature; a parody. A farce. The designs just don’t translate well to live action. Attempts to do so give you something like the above, or this:

realtanookimariofanart

Or even like this:

As a commercial– and a Japanese commercial, at that– it’s cool. In their own ways, each of these versions are cool. But at the same time, it’s what few would want or expect when they hear about a Mario movie, and they don’t exactly scream “pay $15 (plus snacks) to come and get invested in this for 90 minutes to two hours.”

Bob mentions The Avengers, and for the most part, that worked because the characters were already drawn with realistic (albeit fantastic) portrayals. It was a much smaller leap. So many comic books and cartoons and video games go for a realistic style already, and many can– for better or for worse– make the jump somewhat seamlessly.

But trying to do it for Mario? It’s like trying to make a realistic Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam. It can be done, but you’re going to lose something along the way.

Mario is one of those games that doesn’t try to kowtow to realism all the time, and I don’t think it should have to for the movies. Even if they did decide to go that route, you have to ask how much Hollywood would try to change the appearance to “fit.” Just look at Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, or Transformers, of the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Those were already fairly realistic by comparison, and yet you can see what they did to make them “suitable” for the big screen.

Doing so with Mario, we either get something like the above, which is true to the design but looks off in real life, or we get this:

japanmariomovieposter

I’ve been going to Otakon for several years now, and cosplaying for most of them. Some years back, I decided I wanted to cosplay as Mario– a “realistic” version, of course. I got the overalls, I got the hat, and I even got a big croquet mallet that I painted up like the Ultra Hammer from my favorite Mario role playing game, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. All the touches were there, but… it just didn’t feel right to me.

Following what I felt was a failed attempt at getting into the spirit of the character, I changed up my approach. Besides the fact that a lot of other people were already going as “realistic” Marios, I wanted to stand out more with something unique and memorable as well. So in 2011, I went as movie Mario, as portrayed by Bob Hoskins.

I wasn’t trying to be the regular version of Mario, but specifically the movie version, and in the end? It just felt right to me (especially after I started dying my mustache in subsequent years). People who recognized it loved it, too– I even had one person hug me for wearing it, they were so thrilled by it.

All the same, I never felt like I was portraying “the” Mario, so to speak, but a radically reimagined version. That was fine by me, just as that movie is fine by me for that reason. But for a new movie? I want something a little more representative of the source material. I’ve seen the alternative already.

As an aside, those who have been reading Nintendo Force magazine for a while might recall that in the third issue, I wrote a full feature about the development of the Super Mario Bros. movie that included an exclusive look at the more game-inspired, fantasy-based concepts they were looking at early on. Some of it is neat, some of it is kind of freaky, and it would have been fun to see that version come to fruition. And yet, sometimes you just want a Goomba to look like a Goomba.

By keeping Mario a cartoon, it at least removes some of the agency of having to adapt things so they look “right” for a major motion picture, and pushes them to try to tweak things in other ways– such as applying Super Smash Bros.-esque textures and backgrounds to the animated style, for instance.

Speaking for myself, as a fan of almost everything Mario, I would absolutely go and see a live action Mario movie. I’ve done it before, and I’d gladly do it again, whether it was a sequel to the 1993 film (though not having Bob Hoskins as Mario again would be disappointing) or something closer to the aforementioned fantasy treatment.

Either way, though, no matter how much I enjoyed it, it would be losing something in the translation, and I’d still be leaving the theatre thinking to myself “That was fun, but when do we get a real adaptation? Something along the lines of what Sony Pictures did Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper (and maybe/hopefully Sonic)?”

In the end, I think that some video games are just better suited for some form of animation than live action when it comes to the prospect of motion pictures. So much so, in fact, that I’ve formed a list of 16 I think are best suited for it over at WhatCulture (feel free to give it a read… please?).

What do you think, though? Should Mario and friends stick to the style of world they’ve inhabited for so long, or do you think that there is still potential in finding away to adapt his cartoonishly big nose to the big screen?

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  • http://nintendo3dscommunity.com/ CM30

    Nice article. I definitely agree the Mario character designs don’t really translate well into live action (indeed, even the spinoff ones are like this, the lack of good Mario RPG or Wario Land/Ware cosplays show how poorly the designs translate to reality), but to be honest, I think there are more important reasons a Mario film wouldn’t work in live action.

    And the main one is simply; nothing is realistic enough to make live action worth using.

    For example, the Mushroom Kingdom itself isn’t very much like the real world. Yes it has some types of places found here, but for the most part, it’s an exaggerated, reality/physics defying fantasy land that just doesn’t work in a live action setup. You’d need to spend so much on making the scenery in CGI that it probably wouldn’t be worth it.

    The characters just make this even more of a hassle, since they’re often not human like in the slightest. So you’d need to pretty much computer generate the entire cast other than Mario, Luigi and Peach. That’s just not plausible for something of this scale.

    Really, it’s the same reason the Netflix Zelda TV show would be extremely difficult to make. Tha series just has so much of a fantastic setting and so little in the way of human enemies that it wouldn’t be possible to make on a TV budget. Something like Game of Thrones has mostly human enemies/antagonists. Something like Mario or Zelda has animalistic monsters for pretty much every single mook in the game.

    All in all, I agree with you. Mario just cannot work well as a live action series, at least without losing everything that makes it interesting to begin with.

    • http://www.nyteworks.net/ LBD “Nytetrayn”

      Thanks for the comment! It’s always appreciated!

      I kind of agree with you on the setting being a bit bonkers for live action, but at the same time, if one were to pull it off, I could see the appeal in translating it to something that might look believable, like something you could actually step into. When I first read about a live-action Mario movie being in development, my first thought went to the floating blocks and things, and how they would make it work. Similarly, I imagined guys looking like Captain Lou and Danny Wells running around in said environment, and that’s where the image began to fall apart for me.

      Then it turned out they just skipped doing all of that for what we got instead. ;P

      If you check out my Nintendo Force magazine links above, though, you can see that in the early goings, they might have been on to something with the setting, at least. The concepts had a sort of Alice in Wonderland-esque vibe that would have been fascinating to see in live action. I’m assuming the character designs they had would have been physical effects, and would have been something to see.

      Good point on the Zelda Netflix rumor– and a bit worrisome. If they insisted, would we see more human foes? More humans in make-up? Or would we get something that looks akin to Power Rangers?

      …hmm, then again, I can think of worse things to watch than Super Sentai-styled The Legend of Zelda.

      • http://nintendo3dscommunity.com/ CM30

        I suspect the Mario as traditional fantasy idea got about as far as the planning stage before the sheer cost of the necessary CGI and costumes brought it to a shuddering halt. I mean, it’s a better idea than what we got, but I can also see why the (still apparently rather expensive) actual Mario movie got made, because it was more practical to pull off than the alternative.

        Maybe the official sequel webcomic might be able to integrate some of the scrapped ideas with the ones from the Mario movie? Less budget constraints there.

        For The Legend of Zelda, I have no idea what they’d do. I mean, the common humanoid enemies (Moblins, Bokoblins, etc) don’t really look all too much like actual costumes could be used to portray them well. But then more human characters raise the question of why Link would ever be threatened by them. I mean, Link’s a near invincible hero (bad ending of Ocarina of Time aside). A human enemy wouldn’t last five minutes in battle before being promptly slaughtered, especially if he used the Master Sword or Light Arrows or Bombs or magic or whatever else (and if he ever used something stupidly powerful like the Fierce Deity Mask or Link Between Worlds upgraded weapons, they’d last even less time). Add how Demise’s troops apparently ‘mudered without hesitation and nearly eliminated humanity’ in Skyward Sword (or how the Knights of Hyrule were wiped out down to the last man in other games), and I suspect any human forces would be basically cannon fodder against either the heroes or villains of the Zelda franchise.

        They could I guess use Darknuts or Iron Knuckles or Soldiers, since their species is always kept ambiguous… but armour is apparently pretty expensive, especially when needed for large groups of characters or extras in a film or TV show.

        Honestly, I have no idea.

        • http://www.nyteworks.net/ LBD “Nytetrayn”

          I believe part of what shifted it was directorial vision. I’d have to recheck my article… the pair who did it (who Hoskins, Hopper, etc. hated working with while otherwise apparently having an alright time filming the movie) wanted an adult movie unrelated to the games, just to give you an idea of how far off the mark they were willing to go. Thank goodness their already murky vision was kept from being fully realized.

          The comic might; I’d need to ask the guys if they’re doing anything like that. As much shifting as there was, though, I’m not sure how much from the early goings is really compatible with the later vision they’re following. Might get a name drop like “Hildy” or something.

          For Zelda, armored foes are a possibility. LttP and others have made use of possessed knights, after all. Really, it all depends on the story they want to tell. If they’re basing it on a game, which I’d disagree with doing, they’ll be really limited in what they can do without cries of blasphemy. Creating an original tale, though… well, lots of things are possible.

          As far as armor goes, though, I’d wring every penny out of it if I were Nintendo– right down to using it as a focus of their E3 booth. That’s just me.