Does this mean he also eats stars, Tanookis, flowers, cats….

Yes, I cheated a lot making that comic.

When the animated Super Mario Brothers movie was announced I had hopes that it would be good. The concept wouldn’t have worked as well in live-action even if the creators cared…which we know they didn’t when that movie came out. They could recreate the world of the games and suspend our disbelief a lot better.

Now I’m not so sure. Animated adaptations are starting to get as bad as the live-action ones because the people working on it don’t care about the source material any more than they do about the animation format itself. Could this still break the trend of US-produced video game movies? Maybe, but after seeing the trailers and reading an interview with the creators I have my doubts. I’m going to show both the official and final trailers for the movie and then go over my problems. It may not be a deal breaker but considering not only the trend in Hollywood but the history of the two directors my hopes aren’t so high anymore.

The animation looks nice, and they seem to have done some research. I’m happy they’re getting power-ups through physical contact and not eating the power-ups, a running comment made about the games and I went over in the comic strip. The mushrooms (regular ones, not the living people) I could see but every other power-up is not edible. Touching them makes sense and it’s what previous cartoons and comics have done to depict how Mario and Luigi get their powers. One of the directors claimed to grow up with the games and the other plays with his kids. So they appear to know their stuff.

Except they seem to want to show that off. According to the trailers they didn’t just stick to the main games but shoved in the Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart spin-off games just to have them in there. I don’t mind Princess Peach having a bit more agency as she’s had her own games and a prominent role in the sports-based Mario side games. However, they took Luigi and shoved him off to the side. It’s not really the Super Mario BROTHERS unless both brothers are there. It feels like they were afraid to have the Princess in her usual kidnap victim role because of the usual suspects and shoved Luigi into the role instead of one of the Mushroom People, or we have to save the kingdom. Luigi’s my favorite character and he’s had his own game series, which would have made a nice sequel, so to see him appearing to sit out the entire movie while Donkey Kong gets shoved in there despite both characters’ main games usually apart from each other (DK and friends show up in side games like the sports titles) doesn’t exactly make me happy. I’m surprised Pauline and Stanley The Bugman don’t show up at some point.

Animation Magazine interviewed the directors and posted that interview to their website. This is where another concern comes into play.

The PG-rated, CG-animated movie is directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic (Teen Titans Go!, Teen Titans GO! To the Movies) from a screenplay by Matthew Fogel (Minions: The Rise of Gru).

Some people don’t like the Minions but otherwise I haven’t seen any of the Despicable Me movies yet. However, Horvath and Jelenic are a concern. Teen Titans Go! is the comedic remake of the Teen Titans cartoon fans liked. They used the same assets, just in a different art style, like set and character design as well as the voice actors. Then when fans complained they tried to pull the “it’s a kids show” defense as is kids don’t deserve quality simply because they aren’t as savvy about the world as adults, while at the same time creating episodes to attack their adult critics which kids wouldn’t care about. Those defenses are also on a bit of shaky ground at times as well, like using Lion-O’s original voice actor to defend ThunderCats Roar or using clowns as part of their “kids show” defense despite plenty of adults liking clowns. Also the previous show was made for kids as well but was done in a way that created adult fans after the disappointment that it wasn’t continuing the DCAU. So already their track record is cause for concern.

How did your work on Teen Titans Go! help prepare you for the Super Mario world?

Horvath: With Teen Titans we were tasked with making a show that was very irreverent and funny and really broad for a new audience. We were able to do that because there was already a reverent series delivered for a lot of people. But there had never been a really authentic Super Mario movie or TV show that was satisfying. So, in a way it was the opposite of what we did on Teen Titans: Let’s deliver the Mario experience that we haven’t had yet.

I mean, maybe, but what do you mean by “The opposite of what we did on Teen Titans“? Were you not trying to have a satisfying experience you hadn’t had yet? Granted the DIC shows had their issues and the live-action film was a disaster almost immediately before they even started filming, but you can’t make it too broad or you lose the gaming fans. I’m all for appealing to a wider audience and the more casual fans will accept anything that at least looks like the games, but the fans are why this stayed popular. Tossing all the references in will not benefit in the long run.

Jelenic: I’ve spent most of my career working on pre-existing characters and have gone from being faithful to completely irreverent. When people probably first heard our names attached to the movie, they expected we’d do the Teen Titans Go! treatment to Mario. But every project we come to, we make new choices depending on who the audience is and what we’re going for.

At the end of the day, we were trying to do something cinematic and that requires a different tone than maybe you’d do for a 52-week series. All our choices were about, how do we make this feel bigger and more emotional? Movie tickets are expensive, and we wanted this to be a memorable experience. It takes a lot more to get somebody into a movie theater seat. This is sort of the opposite treatment of Teen Titans Go!, so I hope we’re surprising people.

I like this idea a bit more but after your previous work you’re going to have to convince me, and convince me it won’t be another Kevin Smith situation where he messed with He-Man and friends.

(Horvath): The look of the animation we were going for is cartoony and semi-realistic. There are moments of cartoony fun, but it’s probably more of an action movie. We wanted it to feel like a big adventure film and that there are stakes and maybe you believe that these characters can die, so they’re not super-squashy and super-stretchy, and we used consistent volume on the characters to make them feel a little more grounded than you might see in some other animated films.

Credit where it’s due, I think this is the right approach. As the franchise has evolved it hasn’t gone into wacky Looney Tunes style stuff. It’s humorous, though not all the jokes in the trailer work. I’m not sure “adorable” means you can’t fight or excuses the dark kids voiced star of hopelessness. However, the games are not overly cartoonish but these are games set in a magic world and can acknowledge it’s a bit silly at times. Okay, I’m more neutral.

What was it like working with Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Seth Rogen, Jack Black, and the rest of your high-wattage vocal cast?

Jelenic: Sometimes in the animation community people think that you can’t use celebrities, but I think it’s easy to forget that these are great performers and they’ve all proven themselves multiple times and created iconic characters. We cast them in the parts because we believed they could bring these video game characters, who really don’t have much of a personality, to life and make them relatable and funny and heroic. Literally every single person in this movie is great.

And now we’re back towards concerned. You have Charles Martinet in your voice cast, the creator of the Luigi voice as we saw last week and the famous voice of Mario. You have the authentic Mario and Luigi right there. Martinet has done full dialog for them. Instead you went with celebrities. Bowser and Peach have never really had a lot of lines, so using other people is fine. Fans have even been excited about Jack Black as Bowser and he does fine in the trailers but what would Kenny James or Scott Burns have done? Anya Taylor-Joy’s Peach is good though her dialog doesn’t always sound like her character. That’s the writer’s fault. Still, Samantha Kelly might have hoped to really show off what she can do with a full script and now she can’t.

Yes, I did look those up.

The problem here is that everybody knows celebrities are great performers…it’s why they’re celebrities. However, the voice actors are the ones never allowed to prove THEY are great performers as well and here they are denied that again with characters they’ve been playing for years. It makes less sense than with the Scoob! movie because you have the actors right there in your cast and they’ve been reduced to Easter Eggs rather than being allowed to have their moment in the spotlight. Even Paw Patrol kept many of the same roles with the same voices for their movie…and their cast ages out of the show every few seasons. There have been three or four different Ryders alone. You don’t have that problem with the Mario Brothers franchise and you still kicked the voice actors to the background.

Those same voice actors HAVE given the characters personalities, as well as the cutscene animators and writers. As Bounding Into Comics contributor Spencer Baculi points out:

Further, Jelenic’s claim that the Mario universe’s extended cast of character “don’t have much of a personality” not only suggests a misunderstanding of the source material – as is quite typical of Hollywood adaptations in the current era – but is an outright false assertion.

Whether it was small notes tucked away inside a game’s instruction manual, the subtle storytelling of the character’s actions, or the RPG-like lore explorations seen in the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series, Nintendo has gone through great pains to both give their creations their own distinct personalities and keep them consistent throughout their various incarnations.

This, in fact, is why the very interpretations of Mario, Luigi, and Bowser sought to be portrayed by Jelenic are as ‘in-line’ with fans’ expectations as they are – because the plumber and his friends have had dozens upon dozens of years to establish who they are and how they act.

There may not be a deep backstory. From what I’ve heard Miyamoto has treated the stories more as performances, actors playing a story. That was obvious in the level design of Super Mario Brothers 3 or maybe the stage mechanic in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. (I watched a bit of playthrough of the latter on PlayFrame but it wasn’t holding my interest like some of his other playthroughs.) However, we do know what the characters’ basic personality is hopefully the storytellers realized this during production. The directors played when they were younger and play with their kids now, but I don’t know what the screenwriter knows of the characters. Fans are going to be looking for that.

Could the movie be good? Possibly. I can see effort put into this. Will it be accurate? Well, better than the live-action movie but that’s a low bar. Better than the DIC shows is a better bar and it might be a stronger story. I’m not worried or immediately disappointed like so many other video game adaptations but I do have concerns. Even animated video game adaptations are not without their issues beyond the necessities between formats. I do have concerns but my hopes are not completely dashed yet for a good adaptation, and remember that quality of work doesn’t necessarily mean quality adaptations. I’ve seen bad adaptations with good stories and good adaptations with bad stories. Which one this will be, or if it manages to succeed/fail at both is what I’m waiting to find out about.


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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