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Things Fans Want To See In New Animated Super Mario Bros. Film

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Film adaptations of video games have had a rough go of it for the last 30 years. In fact, some of the worst movies of all time have been video game movies (mostly directed by German "auteur" Uwe Boll). Worse, the entire trend started off on the wrong foot as the first live-action video game adaptation was the big-budget 1993 "Super Mario Bros." movie, which ended up being a massive critical and commercial failure.

Instead of the cheerful, fantastical tone of the games, the film was instead a dark, satirical cyberpunk thriller (with production design from the guy who did art direction on "Blade Runner"). It starred Bob Hoskins ("Who Framed Roger Rabbit") and John Leguizamo ("Spawn") as the titular Mario Brothers, with Dennis Hopper ("Blue Velvet") rounding out the cast as a Trump-like corporate fascist take on King Koopa (who, in one of the film's many missteps, keeps his human form for 99% of its runtime).

While that film has garnered a cult following in the ensuing decades, it still isn't the movie most fans of the games wanted. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you feel about the Minions), the animation studio Illumination Entertainment has taken over the reins of the property, and will be turning "Super Mario Bros." into a CG animated feature later this year.

But, with the film's release date rapidly approaching, what exactly do fans want to see in the new movie?

Keep the fantasy setting

As mentioned in the intro, the live-action "Super Mario Bros." film took a weird left turn into cyberpunk territory for some reason. This makes some sense in retrospect when you realize the film's directors — formerly married couple Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton — were the creators of early cyberpunk icon "Max Headroom."

But that wasn't always the case. In fact, the first script commissioned for the original film, when Tom Hanks was still at one point attached to play Mario, was indeed the kid-friendly, fantasy adventure you'd expect, which more closely resembled the games. There were even prototype Koopa Troopa prosthetics and concept art created before the project was eventually scrapped.

Hopefully that same mistake doesn't happen this time. With Nintendo more closely involved with the production, there's reason to believe that the new animated film will keep the more fantastical and whimsical tone of the games — or, at the very least, not look like a warmed over "Theodore Rex."

Don't shy away from the games

The "Super Mario Bros." games, while wildly popular, are also often pretty weird and idiosyncratic as well. Even the basic concept is a bit strange. It's an "Alice in Wonderland"-type tale, but instead of a young girl, it stars two Italian-American plumbers from Brooklyn. And instead of the Queen of Hearts, they're fighting a dragon king with an army of turtle soldiers and walking mushrooms at his command.

The movie should lean into that weirdness, rather than try to over-explain or re-interpret the lore. Basically, they shouldn't try to re-invent the wheel. Doing that gives us corporate Koopa and seven-foot tall fascist goombas.

Furthermore, the new movie should try to put in as much of the iconic imagery, characters, and items from the games as it can. There should be the classic growing mushrooms, the fire flowers, the question-mark blocks, the Koopa Troopas, the goombas, the Hammer Brothers, and so on. Fans will pay to see the "Super Mario Bros." movie to be immersed in this world on the big screen, so let them see it in full.

But don't overdo the video game references either

Video game references in video game adaptations have been really hit-and-miss over the years. Sometimes they're fun, like seeing Sonic eat chili dogs in the new "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" trailer ... and sometimes they're nonsense, like M. Bison literally using an arcade machine to try and kill Guile in the '94 "Street Fighter" movie.

The references in the original "Super Mario Bros." movie were super esoteric. Most of the references were just names on barely noticeable neon signs in the midst of the cluttered, dystopian Dinohattan set.

Nonetheless, a lot of the power-ups from the games actually wouldn't make a lot of sense in a film narrative (such as a bunch of coins just lying around on the ground, or red-shelled Koopa Troopas committing suicide by walking off the edge for some reason). Not only that, but the game references also shouldn't become overstuffed or shoehorned in a way that breaks the flow of the story they're trying to tell. If there's no room for Birdo or a POW Block in the story, then there's no need to shove them in willy-nilly.

Make Bowser actually threatening

King Bowser Koopa, the giant fire-breathing dragon despot, is one of the most iconic villains in all of video games (minus perhaps the AI paddle in "Pong"), if not the most iconic. Because whenever you had to face him in the original games, it was always an epic battle of skills and will (or sometimes just dumb luck).

As alluded to above, one of the original film's greatest sins was turning Koopa into basically Trump with better hair (predicting the latter's eventual presidency decades earlier). While this choice was clearly made due to budget constraints, the fact the we only see a (relatively) video game-accurate Koopa for maybe five seconds towards the end of the film — where he's soundly and anti-climactically defeated — is a travesty.

Luckily, with the new film being completely CG –- meaning animating a dinosaur isn't any more expensive than animating a person is — drastically redesigning Koopa this time seems unlikely. However, with the new film casting Jack Black in the role, having Koopa be an actual menacing threat also seems unlikely. Not to mention Nintendo itself has been metaphorically defanging the character for years now. Hopefully, however, the upcoming "Super Mario" film realizes the potential of keeping Koopa scary and intimidating.

Keep the stakes real

With Illumination Entertainment behind this new "Super Mario Bros." adaptation, chances are that it will most likely end up being a comedic kid's movie. Honestly, it probably should be a comedic kid's movie, as that's the tone and target audience for the games as well.

While the term "kid's film" is often used derisively, many great films — even some of the best films ever made — have been quote-unquote "kid's films." This includes movies like "E.T.", "The Iron Giant", and the entirety of Pixar's oeuvre.

This also means there's no reason there couldn't be real stakes — both emotionally and narratively — in the "Super Mario Bros." film. In fact, a story about brothers is rife with story possibilities, such as overcoming family tragedy or bubbling sibling rivalry that must be quelled by the end of the film. If Pixar and Disney can get this aspect right, so too can Illumination's "Super Mario Bros."

Be legitimately funny

As already mentioned, due to it being a CG-animated film from Illumination, this new "Super Mario Bros." movie will most likely be comedic in nature. As also stated before, this shouldn't be a problem in and of itself, as the games themselves are often comedic and tongue-in-cheek as well. In fact, deviating from that tone was one of the chief issues with the '90s live-action adaptation.

However, what is a cause for alarm is that comedy in modern family films lately has a troubling reputation for devolving into a repetitive stream of (often outdated, due to long production schedules) pop-culture references, or — even worse — the cliché of having characters say some variation of "well, that just happened" when something (supposedly) funny happens.

Instead, the filmmakers should make the comedy in the upcoming "Super Mario" film character-based, as well as physical and absurd. Just like the games! Because the last thing we need are the Mario characters dancing to an already obsolete TikTok trend (or worse, seeing them floss, like some other video game mascot we know...)

Have at least one 'princess in another castle' joke

To be fair, this entry somewhat contradicts a couple of the other things fans would seemingly want. It's possibly a bit too cutesy of a reference, and could also be haphazardly shoehorned in if done poorly. But it's the exception that proves the rule, as that quote is so iconic to the games that it seems like too much of a gimme to pass up completely.

Theoretically, it could fit the plot as well. Since we don't know what the film's story is going to actually be yet, it could potentially be a retelling of the first "Super Mario Bros." game. If that's the case, there could be a second act twist where Mario thinks he's finally saved the day — only to realize he's been fooled and realizes that, yes, the "princess is in another castle."

Even if the new film is not a retelling of the first game (and given the large cast of characters already announced, it's quite possible it isn't), there are still ways to sneak this reference in that aren't intrusive if the writer is clever enough. Let's just hope the writer of "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" is up to the challenge.

Make Mario himself interesting

Who is Mario? 

Well, he's an Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn. He's also really short, has a big mustache, and wears the same overalls and red cap he's been wearing for decades at this point.

But who is he? What makes him tick? What are his flaws and desires? Because, going by the games, Mario doesn't really have a personality. He's just an overly-excitable guy with a can-do attitude. Even though Bob Hoskins gives a great performance in the '90s live-action film (despite hating the movie itself), as written, Mario Mario (no, that's not a typo) is not really a deep character there either.

It's not like we need a Michael Corleone character study for what will ostensibly be a kid's cartoon about a guy beating up giant turtles. But if there are any chances the new film should take, it should be giving Mario a legitimate character arc.

Maybe he's letting the hero gig get to his head and has to curb his growing ego, maybe he's unsure of himself and has to prove his worth, or maybe he's cynical and the film's journey is him finding hope again. Even better, maybe it's something more original than any of those. No matter what though, the film should make the audience care about Mario outside of his icon status, and not take their innate affinity for him for granted.

Don't just be all set-up

One of the biggest issues with modern big-budget franchise filmmaking is the dreaded cinematic universe. While this concept makes sense for certain properties (namely comic book adaptations, such as Marvel or DC), it makes a lot less sense for others (anyone remember Universal's Dark Universe?) Even so, only recently has the DCEU seemed to finally find its footing.

So with Seth Rogen being cast as Donkey Kong in the upcoming "Super Mario Bros." movie, there's a palpable fear that this will be less a standalone "Super Mario Bros." adventure and will instead just devolve into a launching pad for a nascent "Nintendo Cinematic Universe." The thing is, when films become merely set-ups for other films, the central narrative gets lost to focus on tangential subplots, characters, and references that'll only pay off later, but remain unresolved in the film proper. So hopefully Illumination sidesteps that pitfall and lets the "Mario" movie stand on its own. 

Don't 'Minionize' anything

Since this new "Super Mario" movie will be made by Illumination, there's a fear that they'll try to "Minionize" everything. For those unaware (or who have been blissfully living under a rock for the past 12 years), the Minions are the cute little yellow guys from the "Despicable Me" franchise who speak solely in gibberish (or bigotry, depending on if they're being used as mouthpieces for bad Boomer memes or not).

Sure, there's no way they're going to give the "Minion" treatment to the main characters, or anyone with a speaking role (meaning the Mushroom Retainers are probably safe, since Toad will be voiced by comedian Keegan Michael-Key). Unfortunately, however, "Super Mario" creatures like the goombas are ripe for "Minionization."

In fact, it's likely that the goombas will be the next over-exposed and overly-merchandised characters from the studio. So look forward to your aunt sending goomba memes with QAnon conspiracies on them soon.

Don't make it a musical

To be clear, this entry isn't meant to disparage musicals. Musicals, as a genre, are regularly good-to-great. In fact, many of the most-revered films of all time are musicals, such as "The Sound of Music" or "West Side Story," and animated musicals have just as celebrated a pedigree (with movies like "Beauty and the Beast" being nominated for a Best Picture Oscar).

However, having said that, making the new "Super Mario Bros." film into an animated musical would just seem desperate and derivative at this point. Even worse would be if they decided to go the dreaded "jukebox musical" route (unless they have Mario sing "Breakpoint" by Megadeth, which was actually on the original "Mario" movie soundtrack).

That's not to say that a "Super Mario Bros." movie musical couldn't be well-made — weirder things have happened (like, who thought a musical based on an unknown Roger Corman horror film would be successful?) The issue is that the film already has a lot to live up to, and as great as many animated musicals are, there are just as many (if not more) that fall flat, since studios more often than not use musical numbers in animated films not as a form of artistic expression but as an excuse to pad out their already-anemic runtime.

Re-cast Chris Pratt

Probably the most divisive thing to come out of the animated "Super Mario Bros." film announcement has been the casting of actor Chris Pratt as the voice of Mario. It seemed to many fans that the casting decision was simply focus-grouped to death by the studio to make the most bland, safe choice possible. Not to mention that there's been a steady trickle of troubling news about Pratt's personal life.

Now, arguably overturning this casting decision is already too late at this point. But even if futile, it's what a lot of fans would want to see happen nonetheless. Which makes sense, since there's been no indication in any of Pratt's previous performances that he'd be able to do the character justice. Will he try to mimic Charles Martinet's borderline-offensive high-pitched Italian stereotype affectation? Or will he try to go the more gruff route that Bob Hoskins took? Or, most likely, will he just do his boilerplate "affable goofball" voice he's done in every role he's ever had?

That's not to say Pratt hasn't been good in other roles. He was extremely likable in his breakout role on "Parks and Rec," and was perfectly cast as Star-Lord in "Guardians of the Galaxy." So he's fine when playing to his strengths; however, the issue is his lack of range. Unless he somehow proves all the doubting fans wrong, there's nothing in his past roles to indicate that Mario is in that range.