When I think of Mario, I think of the Bowser’s Castle soundtrack from “New Super Mario Bros.” I think of the excruciating pain that comes with every turn on Rainbow Road in “Mario Kart.” But most of all, I think of the long hours spent trying to figure out what indecipherable thing the plumber-turned-hero says at the end of each level (it’s “Thank you, so nice,” and I refuse to believe anything else). Over the last 40 years, Mario has grown from a small-time gorilla wrangler into a full-time icon, one who has seeped out of the gaming world and into pop culture.
Despite the franchise’s massive following, Shigeru Miyamoto’s announcement of the new Mario movie was met with a lot of skepticism. Maybe it’s the fact that the previous movie attempt failed so spectacularly that nobody spoke of another feature-length film for almost three decades. The tepid response could stem form a lack of trust in the animation house Illumination (“The Grinch” and “Despicable Me”) to pull off a project of this magnitude. Or maybe, fans of Mario are wary of on-screen adaptations of games that made up their childhood and they have plenty of reasons to be. Nevertheless, it’s time to dispel the negativity and do some good, old-fashioned speculating.
From the plot to the setting to the character development, here’s what I think you might see on the big screen come December 2022.
1. A Quest
While the Mario games have evolved over the years, it is safe to say that their success was rarely down to a gripping storyline. The games often involved a very simple sequence of events: Mario travels from one world to the next by advancing through levels and eventually facing off against the big-bad, often Bowser, in a bid to rescue Princess Peach. One of the biggest challenges faced by filmmakers while adapting video games for the big screen is the lack of a concrete story in the game’s lore. Considering that the one narrative element that has remained consistent in the Mario games is a quest, and with Chris Pratt (“Jurassic World”) personifying the archetypal let’s-go-on-an-adventure hero, I think we are very likely to see our protagonist travel across the Marioverse in search of someone or potentially … something.
2. Elizabeth Harmon as Princess Peach
It’s 2021, and the damsel in distress model will most definitely not work: Which is why the character I am most excited to see is Peach. How the screenwriting team at Illumination molds her character into someone audiences can rally behind will be fascinating. Likewise, with the voice of Anya Taylor Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”), this character will undoubtedly receive a refreshing new look. I think we can expect Peach to be an important member of the team and while Mario versus Bowser will probably be the final showdown, Peach might be the one who holds the key to the team’s victory. For this very reason, it would not be surprising if Mario and the gang are after something as opposed to someone. Maybe the Koopa Troopas are all mysteriously falling sick and our protagonists need to find the medicine that will cure them, or there could be a dangerous item at large and they need to find it before Bowser does. One thing is certain, Princess Peach is here to take over, and I am absolutely here for it.
3. Speaking of Bowser …
Is it too soon to assume that Bowser will be the villain of the movie? Honestly, no. Yes, there is Donkey Kong, the original antagonist of the Mario world, but one look at the casting list, and you can see what Illumination’s vision is. Seth Rogen’s portrayal of Donkey Kong will provide some much needed comic relief à la Pumba from “The Lion King” (also portrayed by Seth Rogen) and the star casting of Jack Black (“School of Rock”) as Bowser means only one thing: Get ready to see the big bad turtle assume his throne in the lovable Jack Black patented style. Not only has Black played the antagonist role before, but he is also part of the animated movie hall of fame with his performances as Po in the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise. We can expect Black to step up to the plate and make the sometimes two-dimensional character of Bowser his own. Be prepared folks: Bowser’s Castle just got a lot more badass.
Familiar Sights and Fan Service
An integral part of movies, whether they are adapted from books or video games or even theme park rides, is fan service. References to even the tiniest, most irrelevant details can send fans spiraling into fits of nostalgia, and with the number of iconic moments and locations in the Marioverse, we are very likely to see countless easter eggs and callbacks to the games. While the possibilities are endless, there are some must-haves, starting specifically with the “Mario Kart” tracks. From Luigi’s Mansion to Maple Treeway, some of these tracks are forever etched in the memory of fans and as Mario and his friends embark upon their adventures, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they find themselves in some of these locations. I’m placing my bet on Coconut Mall and Waluigi Pinball (just some wishful thinking) making an appearance.
Rest assured there will also be some version of the timeless Super Mario theme song. “Detective Pikachu” left some fans wanting more when all they got was Ryan Reynolds’s Pikachu singing a few lines from the original Pokémon theme song (which, don’t get me wrong, I liked, but it wasn’t enough) and Illumination will not want to make the same mistake.
While spreading some optimism was the point of this article, some things are difficult to look past. What filmmakers see when looking at communities as large as the Super Mario fandom is a guaranteed box office hit, sometimes at the detriment of the fandom’s relationship with something they love dearly. The video game community is one of the strongest out there, and their ability to force a rethink and redesign of the Sonic movie is just one example of that.
There is no shortage of brilliant video game adaptations to the big and small screen, but Mario fans’ skepticism is not unfounded. Many have pointed out that Illumination might simply be banking on the loyalty of fans to the franchise and even, to a certain extent, to the star cast of the film, as opposed to crafting a loving, enjoyable movie. Nevertheless, there is a lot to be excited about, and I’m sure all the skeptics would love nothing more than to be proved wrong.
At the end of the day, this franchise is 40 years old, and it’s going to take a lot more than one movie for Mario and Luigi to become a thing of the past. This could mark the beginning of a new era for the iconic duo and it could be a moment we look back on as a turning point for video game movies, and I for one am incredibly excited to see what they have in store for us, so… “Here We Go!”
Daily Arts Contributor Rushabh Shah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.