After months of fan speculation, Nintendo has finally unveiled the voice cast of the 2022 Super Mario Bros. Hollywood movie.
The announcement came by way of the latest Nintendo Direct. In a surprise cameo, industry legend Shigeru Miyamoto took to the stage, bearing “special” news. Nope, no new 3D Mario in sight (sorry, folks). As a consolation prize, he shared who from Hollywood’s elite will be playing some of gaming’s most iconic characters… for better or worse.
Initial takeaways: Wow, that’s a star-studded cast! Also—geez, that’s a star-studded cast. Any hopes of having a “faithful” adaptation got dashed the moment Miyamoto rattled off a few of these names. Still, it’s gratifying to see Mario getting his due on the red carpet, and it’s a lavish one at that.
But how did Nintendo do with this casting? Armed with nothing more than a list of actors, a love of Mario, and plenty of childhood memories, here are my grades for each pick:
Note: While the casting announcement also included a few supporting roles, I’m sticking to the main cast. Fred Armisen (Cranky Kong), Kevin Michael Richardson (Kamek), and Sebastian Maniscalco (Spike) all seem like fine additions, but they pale in comparison to the sweet, sweet discourse that awaits.
Ready? Let’s a-go.
Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong — B
Starting off our list (we’re going backwards for suspense), we have probably the most logical choice of the bunch. If you’re going to cast someone to play a hairy animal, with a goofy tie, who’s hooked on bananas, then the hairy, goofy vapebro makes a whole lot of sense.
If it sounds like I’m dissing Seth Rogan, I’m not. His patented humor has always been hit or miss for me, but I can’t deny he’d fit in perfectly for a family-oriented Mario flick. He’s also someone who more or less “earned” his role. He wrote the foreword to Console Wars, a book on the battle between Nintendo and Sega during the 1980s and ’90s. The book went on to inspire a TV adaptation, for which Rogan earned a producer credit. He also grew up on Amiga, Atari, and games like GoldenEye and Contra. He’s a gamer, through and through.
But passion isn’t enough for a role; you also need the right chops. From a sheer acting standpoint, Rogan’s voice is so unmistakable that I have a hard time seeing him truly getting into character as DK. For now, he sits at a B, with upside.
Keegan-Michael Key as Toad — A-
Keegan-Michael Key’s situation is practically the complete opposite of Rogan’s. His voice is less distinctive, his ties to gaming are less clear, and on paper he has nothing in common with Toad (for one, Toad’s a lot shorter).
And yet, that’s exactly why Key could be so great as Toad. He’s a character actor, but he’s also extremely versatile. Watch any number of Key & Peele sketches, and you’ll see Key masquerading as everything from a cop, to a football player, to a hotel valet. He’s been on Broadway. He’s acted in comedies and dramas alike. Heck, he’s done plenty of similar animated films before.
Don’t sleep on Keegan-Michael Key. He’ll crush Toad (the role, not literally).
Jack Black as Bowser — A
Take the energy of Keegan-Michael Key, the gravitas of Seth Rogan, and smash them together. You’ll get Jack Black.
If you’re even remotely familiar with video games, you probably already know the passion Black brings to the industry. He’s worked extensively with Tim Schaefer and Double Fine—most notably for his starring role in 2010’s Brütal Legend, but also for smaller cameos over the years. He’s also taken YouTube by storm, partnering with his son to create Jablinski Games, a channel dedicated to everything retro. (Like, really retro. We’re talking pinball.)
Next to Mario, Peach, and Luigi, Bowser’s probably the most famous Nintendo character there is. He’s easily the most iconic villain gaming has to offer. And there’s no better person to embody that character and legacy than Jack Black. (Well, Doug Bowser would have been pretty cool.)
Charlie Day as Luigi — B+
At first, I couldn’t wrap my head around the prospect of Charlie Day voicing Luigi. Then I sat on it for a day, seasoned it, let it cook, and decided I’m all in, baby.
When people think of Luigi, they think of the underdog. The underappreciated. The downtrodden and the down and out. And, of course, the salty.
Sure, he’s timid, but put the pressure on, and Luigi becomes a bonifide badass. When Mario was turned into a painting and the Boos came for Luigi, he fought back. When he was killed by Death, he rose anew. And when a fellow racer nuked him with a blue shell, he vowed for vengeance.
Charlie Day can’t hope to measure up to Luigi’s greatness. But when it comes to experience playing absolute maniacs, few can compete with the It’s Always Sunny star. Throw in Day’s prior video game experience (he co-created the Apply TV+ comedy Mythic Quest) as well as his Italian roots, and he may do Luigi justice yet.
Anya Taylor-Joy as Peach — B+
If there ever was a “straightforward” character to play in the Mario universe, it’s Princess Peach. Unlike the Mario brothers, whose Italian one-liners border on sketch-like caricatures, Peach feels authentic. She’s the only character in most Mario games to be fully voiced, giving her an added layer of personality.
Anya Taylor-Joy wouldn’t have been my first choice for Peach. (That honor would have gone to Brie Larson, a long-time Nintendo fan and advocate.) But there’s no doubt in my mind Taylor-Joy can play the character. Her breakout role as U.S. chess player Beth Harmon on Netflix’s Queen’s Gambit is just one of many feathers in her acting cap. Soon, she’ll be adding a golden coin to her name as well.
Chris Pratt as Mario — F
Let’s be real: This is the reason you clicked the headline. Chris Pratt is such a terrible pick for Mario that practically the whole internet is shouting in unison. The reasons should be apparent, but let’s rattle them off for good measure:
- He doesn’t sound like Mario.
- He doesn’t look like Mario.
- Despite his laundry list of odd career jobs, he was never a plumber.
- I’m pretty sure he’s not Italian.
- When’s the last time Chris Pratt played a video game, let alone voiced a historic character?
Look, it’s possible Pratt does a fine job as Mario. On Instagram, he added some welcome color about the role, complete with his own video game origin story. He even teased the voice for Mario on Instagram before admitting, “That’s not the accent,” then detailing the work he’s been doing with a voice coach to perfect the accent.
He could do a good job, but there are countless other actors who would have done a stellar job. Danny DeVito. Ray Romano. Stanley Tucci. Hell, go with Mark Ruffalo if you want to stick with an MCU star. All of these actors are charming, larger-than-life Italian Americans who’d fit the Mario persona. Chris Pratt just feels like a wasted opportunity, and a name play more than anything else.
Charles Martinet, Surprise Cameos — A+
I know I said I wouldn’t grade supporting roles, but Charles Martinet is special. The long-time voice of Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi, Martinet (who is American born and of French descent) is the heart and soul of the Mario franchise.
Nintendo relegating Martinet to just “surprise cameos” really isn’t surprising. When Hideo Kojima Went Hollywood™ for Metal Gear Solid V, he ditched franchise voice actor David Hayter in favor of 24 star and perpetual “Dammit!” yeller Keifer Sutherland. Annapurna similarly brought together Daisy Ridley, James McAvoy, and Willem Dafoe for the interactive thriller turned dumpster fire 12 Minutes.
Name value matters. Professional actors bring cachet to a film. No one debates this. But I’m glad to see Martinet getting some limelight in Super Mario Bros. He may not be a star (or even Italian), but his presence is sure to bring out the inner child in any self-respecting Nintendo fan.
As for which characters he’ll voice, who knows. Will Wario and Waluigi will get their due? Perhaps they’ll both be MiA. Worse still, maybe they’ll voiced by Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth.
Super Mario Bros. is set to debut in 2022. Until then, I’ll continue asking the tough questions, Nintendo.