Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri apparently assumes his studio is being criticized for casting Chris Pratt as the eponymous plumber in his upcoming Mario film because of concerns about Italian representation and not because, you know, Chris Pratt sucks.
“When people hear Chris Pratt’s performance, the criticism will evaporate, maybe not entirely,” Meledandri said. Term. “People love to express opinions, as it should be. I’m not sure this is the smartest defense, but as a person of Italian-American descent, I feel like I can make that decision without worrying about offending Italians or Italian-Americans. I think we’re going to be fine.”
Meledandri, who is also a producer of the animated film with Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto went on to say that the project is “the fulfillment of a really important goal” and that the relationship between Illumination and Nintendo is “unprecedented in its closeness.” These comments mean next to nothing, but it’s fun to pretend they’re insightful glimpses into the creative process.
The hitherto nameless Mario the film garnered both bemusement and criticism when the voice talent was announced during a Nintendo Direct presentation last year. While, in a way, people understood Jack Black playing Bowser and Seth Rogan for Donkey Kong, it was the film’s cast of Pratt as the titular hero specifically that. turned his head. Some joked that having such a boring, ordinary man in the role erased Mario’s Italian heritage. I guess Meledandri took it seriously.
It should be noted that Charles Martinet, Mario’s official voice since 1990, is also not Italian. In fact, Martin oft-repeated origin story it involves the actor talking about “spaghetti and meatballs” in a stereotypical Italian voice during his half-hour audition before landing the job.
“[Nintendo] he told me he was an Italian plumber from Brooklyn, so my instinct was to try with a harsh, raspy voice: ‘hey, get out of my sight!’” Martinet said. BBC in 2012. “What came to mind was a character I had played in [Shakespeare’s] Taming of the shrew. I was Petruchio going back to look for his wife in Italy, and I was a kind of ‘Mamma mia, good Italian guy’. I thought I would do something like that.”
With that in mind, it’s probably safe to say that Pratt’s casting rejection isn’t largely about Italian or Italian-American representation, at least outside the irony-poisoned halls of Twitter. No, it’s more a matter of, like I said before, Pratt just sucks.
Even if you ignore Pratt attending a homophobic church, people are sick of seeing his chiseled face with shark eyes everywhere. He is the latest in a long line of middling actors to secure blockbuster after blockbuster simply by virtue of being modest. In Pratt, Hollywood has found the perfect nondescript leading man to plug into cookie-cutter adventure movies every summer, from hypnotizing velociraptors in jurassic world to whatever tomorrow’s war is about.
There’s also the fact that animated films in recent years have turned to the possibility of including a star-studded cast during trailers rather than hiring real, talented voice actors. Far be it from me to criticize Charlie Day for taking on a role as Luigi, but we distinguish between “actors” and “voice actors” for a reason. Both art forms require very different skills that don’t necessarily translate to the other. Martinet’s career as an accomplished voice actor should have made him a favorite for the Mario film, not only as a wink, in the style of Stan Lee, but as the plumber himself.
It’s a good thing that Meledandri took the jokes about Italian representation at face value, but it’s obvious that he’s missing the point. He would prefer that he just come out and tell the truth: They hired Pratt because they wanted to cast a big-name actor for the role no matter how big the dissonance was between Mario’s portrayal in the games and the movie. And while I’m probably asking too much of a guy who was involved in releasing the Minions into the world, that’s between Meledandri and the god of him right now.