Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri apparently understands his studio will face criticism for casting Chris Pratt as the eponymous plumber in his upcoming film Mario Movie because of Italian representation concerns, not because Chris Pratt sucks.
“When people hear Chris Pratt perform, the criticism evaporates, maybe not entirely,” Meledandri said meeting. “People love to voice opinions like they should. I’m not sure that’s the smartest defense, but as a person of Italian-American heritage, I feel like I can make that decision without worrying about offending Italians or Italian-Americans. I think we will get along well.”
Meledandri, who is also the producer of the animated film 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 their neighborhood”. These comments mean next to nothing, but it’s fun to pretend they’re insightful insights into the creative process.
The still unnamed Mario The film drew both confusion and criticism when the voice talent was announced during a Nintendo Direct presentation last year. While people kind of understood getting Jack Black to play Bowser and Seth Rogan for Donkey Kong, casting the film with Pratt as the titular character did heads twisted. Some joked that such a boring Everyman in the role wiped out Mario’s Italian heritage. I guess Meledandri took that to heart.
It should be noted that Charles Martinet, the official voice of Mario since 1990, is not Italian either. Martinets, actually often repeated origin story involves the actor ranting about “spaghetti and meatballs” in a stereotypical Italian voice for half an hour during his audition before getting the job.
“[Nintendo] told me I was an Italian plumber from Brooklyn, so my instinct was to try a harsh and coarse voice — ‘Hey you, get out of my face!’” Martinet shared BBC in 2012. “What came to mind was a character I had acted in [Shakespeare’s] Taming the Shrew. I was Petruchio returning to fetch his wife in Italy, and I was sort of “Mamma mia, nice old Italian”. I thought I’d do something like that.”
With that in mind, it’s probably safe to say that for the most part, Pratt’s casting rejection isn’t about Italian or Italian-American representation, at least outside of the irony-poisoned halls of Twitter. No, it’s more like I said, Pratt is just plain bad.
Even if you ignore Pratt Visit a homophobic church, people are tired of seeing his chiseled, shark-eyed face everywhere. He’s the latest in a long line of mediocre actors who have secured blockbuster after blockbuster simply for being humble. In Pratt, Hollywood has found the perfect boring protagonist to add to Cookie Cutter adventure movies every summer, from mesmerizing velociraptors to mesmerizing velociraptors Jurassic world to whatever The Morning War everything is about.
Add to that the fact that animated films in recent years have revolved around being able to list a star-studded cast in trailers, rather than hiring real, talented voice actors. Far be it from me to criticize Charlie Day for accepting a role as Luigi, but we make a distinction between “actors” and “speakers” 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 shoo-in for them Mario film, not just as a tongue-in-cheek Stan Lee-style cameo, but as the plumber himself.
It’s a nice thing that Meledandri has taken jokes about Italy’s representation at face value, but it’s obvious he’s getting around the heart of the issue. I’d much rather he just come out and tell the truth: they hired Pratt because they wanted to tie a big-name actor to the role, no matter how dissonant there is between Mario’s portrayal in the games and the film. And while I’m probably asking too much of a guy involved in unleashing the Minions into the world, that’s between Meledandri and his god at this point.