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…
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:
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:
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?