Since his first appearance in 1981’s Donkey Kong, Mario has become the most iconic and best-selling video game character of all time. It made perfect sense that when video games finally launched into motion pictures, he was where they started. 1993’s Super Mario Bros. was a box office disappointment due to its poor reception – Nintendo and Disney had attempted to compromise on conflicting creative visions, and the result was a mess. Its own actors have publicly disowned it, one of its co-directors has never worked on a feature film again, and its other co-director is only now working on their next one.
But more importantly, it began the sub-genre of video game film adaptations, and did it badly. Either as a direct consequence or otherwise, the rest of that sub-genre’s releases followed suite. There is yet to be one which is well received critically. Many have tried, but Nintendo, who were the first, never wanted to attempt it again.
Until now. An article in The Wall Street Journal, which is blocked behind a pay wall, reports that deals have now been made with Nintendo which they find satisfying enough to be confident in giving a Mario film another go. Initial descriptions of what is currently being planned would imply that the intention is to make the opposite of Super Mario Bros.. One of the major problems with that film was the attempt to rationalise Mario world by rendering him in live action, which altered the way the audience perceived a virtual character.
This time, Nintendo are collaborating with Illumination Entertainment to make an animated Mario film that is effectively a feature-length Full Motion Video, which will be distributed by Illumination’s owners, Universal. Nintendo are to be creatively involved, with Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto attached as producer. The aim is to make a film which is an honourable representation of Mario. Miyamoto has expressed disdain for Super Mario Bros. in the past, saying in an interview with Edge Magazine that his opinion for why the film was such a failure is because of the intention to make a film that was about the games, rather than being a film that was inspired by them.
Miyamoto has guided Mario through his adventures, and knows what’s best for him and his brand. If he’s involved, then that’s a good sign. What needs to happen now is for Nintendo and Universal to find the right way of doing things together; agree on what film they both want to make, and hire a director who’s on the same page. Effective teamwork can do untold benefits to any project.
According to The Wall Street Journal‘s article, Universal acquired the Mario film license as part of a larger 2015 deal which licenses them to make a Super Nintendo World theme park. This license is for several Mario films, though only one is in development at this time. We keep hoping that a video game film will break the curse and be a critical success. Mario has the most potential to be it.
But as history shows, it’s more than just a brand name. It has to be done right. The involvement of the people who make the Mario games is all very well, but they don’t make films. And until we know more about this, we can only speculate and hope.
The Super Mario Galaxy was first introduced in Donkey Kong (1981).