Last Thursday’s Nintendo Direct featured many exciting announcements for the gaming community: Bayonetta 3, Brewster’s arrival to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, an expansion pack for Nintendo Switch Online users which brings Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis titles to NSO’s lineup of NES and SNES games, a racing game from Square Enix called Chocobo GP and many others. Many were expecting an announcement about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but the only Smash announcement at the Direct was a teaser for the actual announcement on October 5.
One announcement brought a large but mixed reaction: the cast list for the upcoming Super Mario movie, a collaboration between Shigeru Miyamoto (the creator of Mario) and Illumination Entertainment (the animation studio responsible for the Minions). The English version of the film will feature Chris Pratt as Mario, Anya Taylor-Joy as Peach, Charlie Day as Luigi, Jack Black as Bowser, Keegan-Michael Key as Toad, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, Kevin-Michael Richardson as Kamek, Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong and Sebastian Maniscalo as Foreman Spike. The film is planned to release in the holiday season of 2022.
Perhaps most frustrating is that Charles Martinet, who has voiced Mario in games since 1996, will not get to voice Mario in the movie, but will instead “be appearing in surprise cameos in the movie.” How can you make a Mario movie and not cast the voice of Mario himself? That’s like making a “Hannah Montana” movie and not casting Miley Cyrus.
The casting movie continues a frustrating trend in animated movies — casting A-list movie stars instead of professional voice actors. It feels like movies these days are marketed with the names of the stars in them as much as they are marketed with the story itself, if not more. I couldn’t tell you what “Smallfoot” was about, but I can sure tell you that Zendaya was Meechee. Remember the “Lion King” remake? Or “Cats?” How much of what you remember about those films comes from their actual content, and how much of it comes from the celebrities that were in those films?
It’s not like there’s a shortage of talented, professional voice actors. From the big names in the anime and video game industry to comedic hobbyists on Twitter, there are a lot of people whose main job/hobby is to do voice acting. They’re experienced in it, they’re good at it. Why not cast them? What does this say for people looking to go into the voice acting industry, if so many roles are being taken by preexisting celebrities?
It would be one thing if it was just regular actors wanting to branch out and do animated stuff, and there have been some genuinely good celebrity voice actors. But at some point, it became more profitable to pull in a dart-board selection of celebrities for a film. The reasoning is clear: moviegoers who recognize names like Chris Pratt and Jack Black will go to movies just to see those actors. It’s an easy money scheme. But I would argue there’s something to be said for casting on talent and ability rather than star power.
To be fair, all of the cast in the Mario movie other than Taylor-Joy have at least one major voice-acting role under their belts. Richardson has primarily been a voice actor for his whole career, starring in things like ”Mortal Kombat” and “The Simpsons.” Meanwhile, Black and Rogen were in “Kung-Fu Panda,” Pratt and Day were in “The Lego Movie,” Armisen has been in “The Looney Tunes Show” and “The Smurfs,” Key was in the “Hotel Transylvania” series and Maniscalo was in “The Nut Job 2.” But (with the exception of Richardson) how many of these roles were cast just based on star power, even if the results were good?
No offense to Pratt, but Mario is supposed to be an Italian plumber from Brooklyn. I have never heard Pratt do an Italian or Brooklyn accent. I do not want to hear Pratt do an Italian or Brooklyn accent. Are they going to make Pratt do an Italian or Brooklyn accent in the Mario movie, or will Mario just have an inexplicably Minnesotan voice? All possibilities are horrifying.
I don’t know what needs to happen to change this trend. Perhaps this is just a passing fad, and we’ll see more traditional voice actors in mainstream films ten years from now. Perhaps we will get to a point where your Tuesday night movie options are “Chris Evans Movie 1” or “Chris Evans Movie 2.” Either way, I look forward to seeing the Mario movie no matter how it turns out — whether I’m pleasantly surprised or just make fun of the whole thing.
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