Whether you’ve seen The Super Mario Bros. Movie or not, you’ve undoubtedly heard Chris Pratt’s fairly normal-sounding voice as the titular plumber. Initially derided for sounding nothing like the Mario we’ve come to know from the games, Pratt has put his own spin on the character. But in his quest to find the perfect voice for this iteration of Nintendo’s iconic Jumpman, Chris Pratt, at one point, apparently made Mario sound something like a Sopranos extra.
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The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which was produced by Illumination, Nintendo, and Universal Pictures and stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, and Seth Rogan, landed in theaters on April 5. Despite a poor critical reception, the film has garnered many eyeballs and positive reviews from theater-goers. It’s raked in nearly $205 million since its opening weekend, which is better than both Sonic the Hedgehog films.
In some respects, the film feels like it was designed in a lab with copious fan-service-y references to Nintendo’s games and seemingly little else. Regardless of what critics thought about The Super Mario Bros. Movie, though, Chris Pratt and the gang got a lot of folks into the theater. Even if people were initially peeved at the way Mario sounds in the film, it clearly didn’t affect the movie’s ability to get butts in seats. And that controversial accent apparently took Pratt several tires to get right—it was worked on so much that, at one point, it resembled James Gandolfini’s voice from the HBO series The Sopranos.
Chris Pratt was doing a Tony Soprano thing
In a recent Variety interview, Pratt said the film’s directors, Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, rejected his first few attempts at Mario’s voice because it was “a little New Jersey.” Pratt explained that all we know about Mario’s voice was Charles Martinet’s contributions to the character in games over the years, which was almost always just a few short, oft-repeated lines.” So the challenge, as Pratt put it, was to craft a voice across a 90-minute narrative that breathed life into a mostly static character with “an emotional through-line” you’ll actually care about.
“For a minute, I walked in and they were like, ‘That’s a little New Jersey. You’re doing a Tony Soprano thing,’” Pratt said. “[The voice] was a really exciting and daunting challenge. Talking to these guys, they say, ‘You wanna do the Mario movie?’ I think both [Charlie Day and I] said yes. [We] didn’t even ask, ‘What’s the deal? What’s the story?’ [Just,] ‘Yes, I’m in.’ And then we had to really dig in and figure out…Are they Italian? Are they American? We know a little bit about Charles Martinet’s voice that he’s sprinkled in there with the ‘Wahoo!’ and ‘It’s-a me!’ and these Mario things, but how do you craft a 90-minute narrative with an emotional through-line and create a living, breathing person about who you’ll care?”
Charlie Day, who voiced Luigi, told Variety that he was also given some notes on his accent, saying the directors told him to sound “a little less Goodfellas.”
“We tried different things, different voices,” Day said. “Every now and then they would say, ‘Charlie, maybe a little less Goodfellas in this one’—I’m like, ‘Alright! I think you’re wrong, but fine!’—until they landed on something they liked.”
In a larger Variety cover story, Pratt said he took accent inspiration from Italian and New York lineages, hoping that folks watch the film with an open mind.
“To develop the voice, I sampled various Italian and New York accents,” Pratt said. “As the directors and I developed the character, we came to land on a voice that is different than Charles Martinet’s version of Mario, but also different from my own voice…My hope is that people will come into the movie with an open mind and that once they see the film, any criticism around Mario’s accent will disappear.”
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I still haven’t seen The Super Mario Bros. Movie and I’m not from New Jersey, so I can’t say for certain if Mario in the film sounds like a Brooklynite or a Jersey resident. What I can say, though, is that Chris Pratt sounds nothing like Charles Martinet and that’s fine with me as long as the film is somewhat enjoyable to watch. Pratt himself may be a problematic celebrity, but I’ll keep an open mind.