Nintendo reportedly close to agreement for U.S.-produced animated Super Mario Bros. film
Decades after the live-action Super Mario film’s flop, Nintendo is said to be ready to take another shot at movie magic.
Over the years, there have been a number of Nintendo choices I didn’t agree with, such as sticking with cartridges for the Nintendo 64 and being so heavily committed to motion controls with the Wii. But I have to admit that this year Nintendo has been making nothing but right moves. The flexibility of its Switch hardware is ingenious, and coming out with both guns blazing by releasing new, mainline entries in both its Zelda and Mario series in the very first year is a bold move that’s helping move hardware, and for the first time in recent memory the company seems serious about courting third-party software developers.
So I can’t really blame Nintendo for wanting to keep its foot on the accelerator in developing new projects, but I also can’t help but think they might be speeding towards a brick wall if the rumors of a new Hollywood-produced Super Mario Bros. movie are true.
The Wall Street Journal, citing information from a source connected to the project, reports that Nintendo is in talks with U.S.-based Illumination Entertainment to create an animated Super Mario Bros. film, and that the parties are close to reaching an agreement. Illumination is partially owned by Universal Pictures and is the company behind animated films including Despicable Me, Minions, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sing.
▼ Trailer for Super Mario Odyssey, the character’s most recent video game installment
This would be the first Nintendo-owned property to receive a theatrical adaptation since 1993’s live-action Super Mario Bros. film (though Nintendo publishes the Pokémon video games, which has a theatrical anime released each summer, the franchise is controlled by the semi-autonomous Pokémon Company). The live-action Mario was such a critical and box office catastrophe that, rumor holds, Nintendo was soured on the idea of ever again licensing its characters out for film versions, but if the Wall Street Journal’s story is true, apparently the Kyoto-based video game giant is ready to roll the dice again after licking its wounds for the past 20-plus years.
▼ Would Mario’s nipples show up in the animated film?
The involvement of Illumination, with its Universal connection, would mesh nicely with Nintendo’s high-profile partnership with the Universal Studios theme parks, which are currently developing Nintendo-themed areas for both their Japanese and U.S. park sites. The Wall Street Journal report claims that animation production itself would be handled by Illumination’s Mac Guff studio in Paris, and while it’s a little odd to imagine Nintendo outsourcing visual work on its flagship franchise, the company lacks an internal CG movie department on the magnitude of, say, Final Fantasy developer Square Enix, and so it’s unlikely that an feature-length, theatrical-quality Super Mario Bros. could be made without outside help.
A Nintendo license has been a much-desired prize among movie studios for years, and Forbes movie columnist Scott Mendelson says “An animated Super Mario Bros. movie would be a license to print money, operating as a kind of multigenerational nostalgia-fest.” But back in 1993, too, many assumed that a live-action Mario was a sure thing, before it arrived in theaters and slammed audiences with such crushing disappointment that it failed to make back even half of its budget at the U.S. box office. Granted, 24 years later there’s a lot more Mario nostalgia than there was in the early ‘90s, but many of today’s adult Mario franchise fans are the same people who were turned off by the live-action film as kids, and are they really going to want to risk submitting their own children to similar cinematic trauma?
There’s also the question of where all that nostalgia comes from, and whether it would translate to the movie-making process. The Mario video games generally don’t have much in the way of story beyond “Bowser kidnaps Peach.” The characters don’t have personalities so much as abilities, and while Nintendo always makes sure the Mario games have nice graphics and sound, the actual fun has always come from playing them. So even if Illumination can earn Nintendo’s approval to make an animated Mario film, the bigger question is whether or not the character’s fans are going to be interested in watching him run and jump around the screen for an hour and a half if they’re not controlling him.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he still says Super Mario World is the best pack-in game ever.