Now that we’ve all been properly satiated with memes from the second Super Mario Bros. Movie trailer, it’s time to re-address the elephant in the room: Chris Pratt’s vocal performance as Mario is holding this film back.
While there have been countless examples of Hollywood actors using their everyday voices for an animated film—think Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom in Toy Story 4, for example—oftentimes the actor’s level of notoriety within Hollywood gives them credence to do so because their character isn’t as important as the phenomenon of an A-list talent voicing them. However, while John Lennon had at least modest claim to tout The Beatles as “bigger than Jesus,” Chris Pratt voicing Mario is no such case. Pratt has to rise to the role he’s stepping into, not the other way around. And if the trailers are anything to go by, he’s not doing so well.
To his credit, Pratt’s low-energy “wahoo” at the end of yesterday’s trailer was serviceable, but when you look at the sheer energy and bravado Pratt’s castmates are bringing to the table, it’s hard not to feel like the ultimate film will be tainted by what’s sounding like a subpar vocal performance.
Jack Black is chewing up the virtual scenery as Bowser, Charlie Day as Luigi basically writes itself to any viewer of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and you know for a fact that Seth Rogen’s stoner laugh alone perfectly encapsulates Donkey Kong’s goofy energy. Most of all, Princess Peach throwing away the trope of being a damsel in distress for being the Mushroom Kingdom’s fearless leader wielding a freaking halberd matches the fierceness Anya-Taylor Joy brings to her roles, particularly in The Northman. Pratt, on the other hand, comes off as a bland isekai protag the audience is forced to stick with in order to experience more stimulating characters and the greater wonder of the world he inhabits. This is something the second trailer hit home with how many times characters unga bunga’d his ass on screen and how hapless Mario appeared in comparison to everyone else.
The voice actors for Mario in other countries do a better job of nailing his voice by either matching Mario’s energy from the games or bringing their own flair to the booth. In terms of sheer accuracy, my favorite vocal performance goes to Mario’s Brazillian voice actor, Raphael Rossatto. Rosatto’s vocal performance as Mario really mamma mias on-a tha cannoli, if you know what I mean. Mamoru Miyano, of Persona 5 fame, also knocks it out of the park as Mario’s Japanese voice actor. His track record voicing Death Note’s Light Yagami, Zombieland Saga’s Kotaro Tatsumi (If you know, you know), and Kingdom Hearts’ Riku all but assures that Miyano has the range to voice Mario at his most silly and serious moments. However, Rossatto and Miyano aren’t just great Mario voices by virtue of their impressive resumes, but because they are trained voice actors, unlike Pratt.
Voice actors have been rightfully up in arms about Hollywood’s recasting of actors for feature films. While Sonic the Hedgehog 2 had the wherewithal to not replace Tails’ long-time voice actress Colleen O’Shaughnessey, other films like Space Jam 2 take it upon themselves to recast main characters with names that have more star power, in this case casting Zendaya as Lola Bunny instead of retaining her established voice actor, Kath Soucie. Power Puff Girls’ voice actor Tara Strong voiced her frustrations at Nintendo not letting long-time Mario voice actor Charles Martinet reprise his role in the film, tweeting that “It should be Charles.” Although he will have a cameo in the film, it’s hard not to be disheartened by the fact that the guy who is the voice Mario isn’t voicing him on the big screen.
Charitably speaking, I’m of the mind that the Mario Movie would’ve benefitted from giving Pratt the same voice direction Marvel gave Vin Diesel for the Guardians of the Galaxy movies by limiting him to a couple of onomatopoeias. Admittedly, having Pratt bark a couple of half-hearted “Oh nos,” “Mamma mias” and “Let’s-a gos” and leaving it up to his castmates to fill in the blanks would’ve been pretty funny to watch. But then, Nintendo wouldn’t be able to boast on social media, like video game director Hideo Kojima sometimes does, about his use of Hollywood actors breathing life into its characters. Sometimes the most expensive option is worse, Miyamoto.
Mario voice frustrations aside, the movie will likely still do gangbusters at the box office by virtue of it being a Mario movie with stellar animation by Illumination Studios. However, that won’t stop fans from feeling like the Super Mario Bros. Movie could have been an 11 out of 10 if its vocal performances matched the efforts of its animators. Hopefully, the U.S. will have the option to watch it subbed in theaters like in those “Japanese anime” we all hear so much about that sometimes make their way overseas.