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Why Is Chris Pratt Voicing Mario?

The character's longtime voice actor Charles Martinet is still alive, but only appears in the film in a cameo role

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    The Internet wasn’t thrilled when Universal Pictures announced very-not-Italian Chris Pratt would voice Italian-via-Japan Mario in a new Super Mario Bros. animated film. But Pratt and those closest to the project, due to hit theaters in April 2023, are adamant that his interpretation of the beloved video game character will have you shouting “Wahoo!” (Sorry.)

    Chris Meledandri, a producer on the film and founder of Universal Pictures’ Illumination animation studio, believes he speaks for all Italian-Americans in saying Pratt’s take on Mario isn’t offensive. “When people hear Chris Pratt’s performance, the criticism will evaporate, maybe not entirely — people love to voice opinions, as they should,” Meledandri said back in June. “I’m not sure this is the smartest defense, but as a person who has Italian-American heritage, I feel I can make that decision without worrying about offending Italians or Italian-Americans. … I think we’re going to be just fine.”

    Pratt, meanwhile, has made sure to assure viewers that his portrayal won’t rely on exaggerated Italian stereotypes in the same way as Mario’s “It’s-a Me!” video game catchphrase. “I worked really closely with the directors and trying out a few things and landed on something that I’m really proud of and can’t wait for people to see and hear,” the actor told Variety. “It’s an animated voiceover narrative. It’s not a live-action movie. I’m not gonna be wearing a plumber suit running all over. I’m providing a voice for an animated character, and it is updated and unlike anything you’ve heard in the Mario world before.”

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    Well, the new trailer is out now, and he’s not doing an over-the-top Italian stereotype. In fact, the first time Pratt speaks in the preview, he doesn’t sound like he’s doing anything at all. He can be heard muttering, “What is this place?” in the same voice as Star-Lord, Andy Dwyer, or whatever his character is named in the Jurassic Park franchise. However, his second utterance, “Mushroom Kingdom, here we come!” comes out a little bit like, “Heyuh we cahm!” It might be an odd moment, or  he might be attempting some kind of dialect, though it’s not clear if that dialect has ever before been uttered on planet earth.

    You’d be right to wonder why Universal didn’t cast Charles Martinet (who is also not Italian, it’s worth noting) as Mario, since the voice actor has portrayed the character in all of Nintendo’s video games since 1992 and has said he’d like to continue doing so until he “drops dead.” Perhaps the studio just wanted a bigger name to anchor its all-star cast, which also includes Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Kevin Michael Richardson, Fred Armisen, and Sebastian Maniscalco. In any case, Martinet will appear in the movie in an unspecified cameo, and he’s given the project his stamp of approval.

    “I’m excited about the film, I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” Martinet told The Digital Fix. “You know, anytime you’re an artist and you get the call to come and play in the sandbox, it’s unforgettably wonderful and magnificent.”

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    The upcoming Mario film is directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic and hits theaters April 7th, 2023.

    Another reason folks may have been disappointed by Pratt’s casting is that he’s long been a member of a church with a reputation for homophobia. Despite that, he’s had plenty of work recently, from Jurassic World Dominion and Thor: Love and Thunder to The Terminal List and an upcoming Garfield movie.

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