Movies

This Is the Super Mario Bros. Movie Cast That We Really Deserve

Out with Chris Pratt, in with Robert De Niro.

A group of cartoon characters with human heads.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Churchill Downs, Amy Sussman/Getty Images, Christopher Polk/Getty Images, Kate Green/Getty Images, Nintendo, and Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon.

Last week, in the middle of a hallucinogenic suite of announcements, Nintendo confirmed that the Mario Bros. were once again headed to Hollywood. The news sent a shiver up my spine; the first Super Mario Bros. movie was released in 1993, at the absolute apex of the company’s early ’90s success, and it remains the most unhinged film ever made. In 1993’s Mario adaptation, Mario and Luigi are plumbers in Brooklyn who’ve been transported into a terrifying subterranean parallel dimension where King Koopa—played by the immortal Dennis Hopper—reigns supreme. It was muddled with plot holes, exceedingly dark, and possessed a tertiary-at-best connection with the actual Mario tenets. We haven’t yet seen this new animated adaptation, from Despicable Me studio Illumination, but the announced cast is already making us go insane.

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Because, dear reader, Mario—that erstwhile Italian plumber from Brooklyn—is being played by Chris Pratt, which conjures up horrifying images of the man also known as Star Lord turning to the screen and saying, “Yeah, THAT happened” after conquering World 1-1. It gets worse from there. The producers at Universal casted Charlie Day as Luigi. Donkey Kong? Seth Rogan. Princess Peach? Anya Taylor-Joy, most recently seen doing drugs and playing chess in The Queen’s Gambit. Fred Armisen is somehow here, giving voice to Cranky Kong, a character who has exclusively appeared in video games that do not feature Mario. It’s like someone stuffed the last decade of box office superiority into a blender. Nothing has been more emblematic of Hollywood’s gurgling death throes.

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I am a longtime Mario fan, and I am appalled by the way Universal Pictures has disgraced these characters. So consider this an open letter presenting the right way to cast a Mario movie. If we could CGI Sonic’s teeth away, surely we can get Chris Pratt away from this production before it’s too late.

Mario — Robert De Niro

This should be De Niro’s final role. Everyone thinks De Niro is going to go out on the back of some Scorsese project—The Irishman 2 or whatever—but no way. His swan song will find Robert saying shit like “Bob-omb” and “Koopa Troopa” in his dulcet low baritone, aged to a coarse hush as he enters his 80s. This makes more sense than you think: De Niro and Mario have similar body types (short, stout, and peerless sex symbols in the very specific lane they dominate), and unlike Chri Pratt, he’s actually Italian. The original Super Mario Bros. movie cast Bob Hoskins as Mario, in one of the most psychotic and distressing Hollywood pairings of all time. De Niro would honor that legacy. Also, could we get Scorsese to direct?

Luigi — Jared Leto

Luigi is horrifying. He’s a colossal, rail-thin plumber in suspenders, literally twice the size of nearly every other humanoid in the Mushroom Kingdom. If we are to actualize his uncanny Boschian anxiety, we must hire the most committed method actor available. Leto would go the extra mile, mastering every facet of the strange Luigi gestalt. (Go-kart driving, tennis, extended stays in a haunted mansion.) We’ll end up with hundreds of hours of material, nearly all of which will be condemned to the deep recesses of the Criterion edition.

Bowser — Kevin Hart

I think we have to go with Kevin Hart here. All animated films, by their nature, are cynical merchandising ploys designed to move reams of plastic toys from Target shelves all over the world. What that means is that the entire Mario cast will be reduced to focus group–hewn catchphrase machines, filling the runtime with some of the worst pop culture references you have ever heard in your entire life. Bowser, then, will continue a great American tradition pioneered by Mike Myers’ Shrek and Eddie Murphy’s Donkey: a bumbling villain who is absolutely going to say “HATERS GONNA HATE” after loading Mario into a cannon or whatever. Kevin Hart is perfect for that role. Nobody else comes close.

Toad — Asia Kate Dillon

Everyone got heated about the lack of Italian representation in the two starring roles, but Toad canonically doesn’t subscribe to gender binaries. That seems like a great opportunity to bring in the most prominent nonbinary actors working in Hollywood, in order to recognize perhaps the single most overlooked precept in the Mario universe. Is it telling that the movie-making industry is so short on gender nonconforming roles that Toad, a little imp with a mushroom for a head, represents one of the few opportunities available? Absolutely! But we do know that Asia Kate Dillon will crush it.

Donkey Kong — Andy Serkis

Why is Donkey Kong in this movie? This isn’t a Donkey Kong Country adaptation. Nintendo has led us to believe that the Donkey Kong legendarium exists in a parallel dimension from all of our Mushroom Boys, so of course Universal stomped all over the canon as soon as it got the chance. Whatever. If we’re going this route, we should bring in the master. Andy Serkis should’ve won an Oscar for the months he spent in a mo-cap suit, writhing around in the muck, breathing unbelievable life into the inscrutable Smeagol. You know what’s a higher degree of difficulty? Doing the same with Donkey Kong, a literal monkey who has never spoken a single human word throughout his entire video game career. Serkis, I imagine, will spend most of his time in front of a green screen spinning his arms around so fast that he takes off like a helicopter. 

Cranky Kong — Larry David

This is somehow weirder than the Donkey Kong inclusion, because at the very least, Donkey Kong and Mario faced off in the arcades of the early ‘80s. Cranky Kong, on the other hand, has never broken bread with Mario in any capacity. Like seriously, what’s next? Are you gonna put Kid Icarus in this thing too? Honestly, Cranky Kong should be played by the late, great Andy Rooney, but since that’s untenable, we’re suggesting Larry David, who epitomizes Cranky’s defining characteristics of “being mad at everyone” and “not being totally sure why they’re here in the first place.”

Princess Peach — Tilda Swinton

The Sonic movie succeeded because it possessed a knowing, loving reverence for the absurdity of the fiction, and if we’re ever going to cross the same rubicon with the Mario adaptation, then we need to finally dig into what the hell is going on with Princess Peach. Here we have a woman who lives her entire life in bondage, due to the conniving machinations of a giant lizard who wants to marry(?) her … except when she’s off playing golf with the girls or whatever. Who can best bring this Lady Macbeth–like quality into the female lead? Tilda Swinton, of course! I imagine her thoroughly deconstructing the character, culminating in a Joker-ish spinoff called PEACH. 

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