Over the past few years, an ever-growing amount of both fans and creatives have taken to viewing the hiring of live-action Hollywood stars for voice acting roles as an inherently detrimental move which does nothing but put dedicated VAs out of work and allow for a given project to get a cheap marketing bump – but unfortunately, it seems the directorial duo behind the upcoming The Super Mario Bros. Movie are not among them.
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Composed of equal parts Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic – who many may know better as the creators of Teen Titans GO! – the two-man team behind the camera on Mario’s upcoming second shot at the silver screen spoke to their creative approach to the Mushroom Kingdom’s voice acting during a recent cover interview given to Animation Magazine  for the April 2023 issue of their publication.
Asked by the outlet’s Jeff Spry what it was like to work “with Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Seth Rogen, Jack Black, and the rest of your high-wattage vocal cast,” Jelenic promptly asserted, “Sometimes in the animation community people think that you can’t use celebrities, but I think it’s easy to forget that these are great performers and they’ve all proven themselves multiple times and created iconic characters.”
“We cast them in the parts because we believed they could bring these video game characters, who really don’t have much of a personality, to life and make them relatable and funny and heroic,” he added. “Literally every single person in this movie is great.”
Proceeding to give Spry a quick rundown of the film’s cast, Jelenic recalled, “Chris Pratt is great at playing an everyman who’s funny, but that you also buy as a hero. Charlie Day is the perfect embodiment of what you think of as Luigi. And then you have Jack Black playing Bowser — and we decided to make that character scary, but the other side of Bowser is somebody who’s vulnerable and funny, and Jack is able to play both those parts and make it not seem like two different characters.”
“It’s sort of humbling working with this talent,” he concluded. “From the French studio to the vocal cast, every single person has excelled in this movie.”
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But despite Jelenic’s (and presumably Horvath’s, as he did not offer up any protestations) optimism, most fans have come to feel that, outside of Jack Black as King Koopa himself, most of The Super Mario Bros. Movie‘s English-language voice cast sound like they’re just playing themselves.
From Luigi’s fearful scream sounding like it was ripped straight from one of Day’s more frantic episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to Chris Pratt’s Mario sounding like the Guardians of the Galaxy star couldn’t be bothered to put in any effort, the casting of celebrities has done little in building hype for the film.
Further, Jelenic’s claim that the Mario universe’s extended cast of character “don’t have much of a personality” not only suggests a misunderstanding of the source material – as is quite typical of Hollywood adaptations in the current era – but is an outright false assertion.
Whether it was small notes tucked away inside a game’s instruction manual, the subtle storytelling of the character’s actions, or the RPG-like lore explorations seen in the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series, Nintendo has gone through great pains to both give their creations their own distinct personalities and keep them consistent throughout their various incarnations.
This, in fact, is why the very interpretations of Mario, Luigi, and Bowser sought to be portrayed by Jelenic are as ‘in-line’ with fans’ expectations as they are – because the plumber and his friends have had dozens upon dozens of years to establish who they are and how they act.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie leaps into theaters on April 5th.
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