Grading the casting of the Upcoming Super Mario Bros. Movie

Over the past week, the internet was ablaze with mockery and outrage at the casting of the Super Mario Bros. And that outrage is fair, because every casting choice was ridiculous. But also, it was a touch unfair, because the studio behind it was Illumination, and if you had any expectations for this movie that was coming from the same movie studio which gave us the Minions, then perhaps you need to factor that in next time.

The cast for [untitled Mario film] was unveiled during a Nintendo direct this past weekend, and it while it was mocked and despised, I don’t think it’s quite all bad, and I think it’s worth discussing. As much as I think it’s an odd choice for Nintendo to license this franchise out to Illumination after being so displeased with the live-action adaptation of Super Mario Bros. in 1993 that they restricted live-action adaptations until Detective Pikachu two years ago. I don’t know the behind-the-scenes of who Nintendo could get to do a live-action adaptation of Super Mario Bros., but I have no idea why they thought Illumination was the right fit.

In any case, Illumination has released their cast list, and it’s drawn some significant reactions. I wanted to go casting-by-casting, and talk about what I thought about each selection. I hope this goes without saying, but the grading rubric goes like this: A = Perfect Casting, C = Adequate Casting, F = Complete failure. C is not bad, C is average! B is between A and C, D is between C and F. Without further ado…

Chris Pratt as Mario – D

The Casting Heard Round the World; my goodness, this is bad. It just seems like a knee-jerk casting that would have been made a few years ago as Chris Pratt’s star was on the rise, like when he was rumored to be in the running to reboot Indiana Jones. “Oh, Chris Pratt’s charming and funny as Starlord. Oh, he’s charming and funny in The Lego Movie, he’s in Jurassic World, he’s in Magnificent Seven. He’s everywhere!” At first, I found myself saying that he doesn’t really do voice acting, but I realized I was mistaken – he did voice act in The Lego Movie, and in Onward – so it’s not a totally new world to him. That being said, when I imagine him saying phrases like “It’s-a-me, Mario,” or any of the other Mario mainstays, I just can’t picture him doing it well. He’s got a fair amount of charm, and a talent for comedic timing, but pointing out that he’s got some strengths calls into question what we would need for a Mario voice actor. What are Mario’s true characteristics? Do we need him to be funny? Do we need him to be charismatic? In most performances, I do trust Chris Pratt, but I don’t know that this is the right role for him.

Charlie Day as Luigi – B-

Charlie Day is such a talented actor. For many years now, on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia he has played a sitcom oddball who is similar in both levels of chaos and performance quality to Kramer on Seinfeld. Charlie Day usually plays a quirky supporting character, and that’s what Luigi should probably be. That being said, I’m still skeptical of this casting; can Charlie do a voice that has a similar nasally tenor to Luigi? As opposed to Chris Pratt as Mario, I think that the attributes of Luigi are a little bit of a plus for Charlie Day, but I’m not overly optimistic.

Anya-Taylor Joy as Princess Peach – C

Is the blog post where I have to mention that I haven’t watched Queen’s Gambit and don’t really know her deal. I’m not necessarily opposed to this casting, but I don’t know what they’re going for. I’ll give this a flat C, because I don’t know what else to say.

Jack Black as Bowser – B-

As far as I’m concerned, the jury’s out on this one. To play Bowser, you need a monstrous, angry voice. That’s not necessarily what I associate with Jack Black, but I think he could do it. Maybe. Potentially. This will either be perfectly fine or absolutely terrible. I’m optimistic on this particular case, but I’m also prepared for this not to be that good. It doesn’t need to be 100% serious, but it also shouldn’t be 100% humorous.

Keegan-Michael Key as Toad – C-

I love Key’s sketch comedy, and I love just about everything he does. That being said, I anticiapte that the studio will want him to do the same voice he did for the stuffed-animal character he did in Toy Story 4. No, that’s not a bad voice, but I feel like the joke of “Toad has the voice of KMK, isn’t that funny?” will get very old very fast.

Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong – B+

I’m doing my absolute best to be skeptical, but I feel like this casting will work. Can’t you picture it? Who knows what they’ll go for with Seth Rogen’s voice? This one, for whatever reason, could potentially work, even though I can’t explain it. After the 80’s, Donkey Kong became a pretty chill and relaxed character. After watching a friend play Donkey Kong 64, my next exposure to DK was interacting with him as the anti-Bowser in Mario Party – he’d occasionally give gifts and help out. A relaxed, lighthearted character, that I think Seth Rogen could actually do quite well.

Charles Martinet in “surprise Cameos” – F+

This is perhaps the most disrespectful and worst casting of them all. If you have Charles Martinet, why cast him in miscellaneous roles? I think having him, but not as Mario, is a failure – but, I think having him in some role is better than nothing, so I’m inclined to give this casting slightly better than a total failure.

And that’s all I have to say – Fred Armisen will play Cranky Kong, and Kevin Michael Richardson will play Kamek, and I don’t have that much to say about those castings. They’ll be fine enough, I suppose. Sebastian Manascalco will play Spike from Wrecking Crew, not the other Spike – this kind of just puts him in the role of “Italian Guy who does construction” which I actually think is a good enough casting.

Are any of these castings amazing? No, certainly not. And will these actors really take on the personas of their characters during this movie? No, I doubt it. But, do I expect this movie to be good? Also no, definitely not. Frankly, I think this movie was doomed from the moment they let Chris Pratt voice Mario instead of Charles Martinet. Otherwise, I think it was doomed from the moment Nintendo grave the green light to America’s #1 producer of mediocre animated children’s films.

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