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The Rainbow Road to the casting of Chris Pratt as Mario

Graphic by Kyle St. John

The main voice cast for the upcoming “Super Mario Bros” movie, set to release on Dec. 21, 2022 by the Illumination animation studio, was announced to the public by Nintendo on Sept. 23. The news left many bewildered and unable to picture the chosen actors voicing world-famous video game characters.

The main highlight of confusion came from the announcement that Chris Pratt, famous for his roles in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Jurassic World” and “Parks and Rec,” would be playing the lead plumber. 

Other casting choices include Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) as Luigi, Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) as Princess Peach, Jack Black (“School of Rock,” “Jumanji”) as Bowser, Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele”) as Toad and Seth Rogen (“Superbad,” “This is the End”) as Donkey Kong. 

In a technical sense, a number of these well-known Hollywood actors have been in large mainstream animated movies before, including Chris Pratt as Emmet in “The Lego Movie,” Jack Black as Po in “Kung Fu Panda” and Keegan-Michael Key as Ducky in “Toy Story 4.” However, these actors are better known for their live-action roles in films.

Illumination has never been a stranger to casting popular celebrities for their animated movies, such as when Steve Carell was hired for “Despicable Me” in 2010 when “The Office” was near the peak of its popularity during its seventh season. However, the idea of having Hollywood celebrities voicing well-known characters who have been a part of the cultural zeitgeist for over 35 years has a number of people raising much more concerns than usual. 

Using well-known celebrities’ voices for animated movies has been the standard for animated films for a long time now, with the trend being started in 1992 with Robin Wiliams’ role of the Genie in “Aladdin.” However, the trend didn’t become the standard until 2001 with the release of “Shrek,” whose cast included massive stars Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow. 

This brings us to the year 2021, where any animated movie created by a major animation studio will hire well-known Hollywood actors in order to get more press and marketing for their film. From Zendaya’s role of Lola Bunny in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” or Kim Kardashian West’s single minute of screen time in “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” this is a trend that, in the eyes of Hollywood, is a tried-and-true tactic for a film’s financial success. 

This has been a common trend in animated movies for a long time, but the reason that it is only now being scrutinized is because of the choice to not hire someone like Charles Martinet, who has voiced Mario for over 25 years, but instead hire a well-known name like Chris Pratt for the sake of name recognition in the general public. 

This outcry seems mainly to come from the legacy that Martinet has for the character of Mario, and not the fact that Mario is an already existing character. “Scoob!” saw a similar backlash for hiring Hollywood actors such as Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried and Will Forte as opposed to actors like Matthew Lillard and Grey DeLisle-Griffin, who have been and still continue to voice these characters for over 20 years.

At the end of the day, the casting for the “Super Mario Bros.” movie is nothing out of the ordinary in terms of animated Hollywood productions. Only time will tell if these casting decisions will result in a product that is widely accepted and appreciated by the public, or another below-average video game movie to be forgotten in time.

One Comment

  1. Lee Huckstep Lee Huckstep October 1, 2021

    Perhaps the choices they have made will result in a movie with a huge budget, where the actual voice actors would not have that kind of impact? That said, voice acting is not to be underrated. Ron McLarty who has voiced dozens of great audio books, brought more to the books then the author ever could have… having voiced Stephen King. Now I love Mr King as an author, but his voice acting just hasn’t been good in my opinion, almost unlistenable at times. Obviously books and the silver screen are two very different mediums, that said it will certainly be interesting to see this movie..

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