As a Nintendo fan, I was excited and nervous to hear that a movie based on the Mario Bros. franchise was coming to the big screen. Even as far back as 2018, Nintendo announced they were working on one, according to Variety. I remember my friend and I in high school speculating what this movie would be about.
Fast forward to 2021 where we got our first look at the movie in a Nintendo Direct on Sept. 23, only to find out actor Chris Pratt will be playing the titular plumber. Not only that, but Charlie Day will be playing Luigi, Seth Rogen will be playing Donkey Kong and Jack Black will be playing Bowser, among other celebrities playing other characters, according to the direct. Needless to say, I was shocked.
Fast forward even more to November 2021, where it is announced by co-founders and co-CEOs of film production company Alcon Entertainment that Chris Pratt will be playing Garfield in a new animated movie based on the Garfield comics, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Not even a couple months later and Pratt has taken another main role in a film adaptation of a beloved franchise. With Pratt snagging these two roles, it makes me wonder if celebrities should be voice acting for characters they really don’t need to voice.
With all of this being said, I do believe celebrities can be included as voice actors in movies. One movie I saw last year, “Sonic the Hedgehog,” had Jim Carrey playing the villain Dr. Robotnik. However, he was one of the only big names in the project, and while he wasn’t voice acting per se, he was still playing a role in a pre-existing franchise. That isn’t to say Ben Schwartz didn’t knock his role as Sonic out of the park, but I feel like he isn’t as recognizable as someone like Carrey. Adding onto this, Sonic’s voice actors are constantly changing. Since the 1990s, he’s changed voice actors several times, but Mario is in a franchise where voice actors don’t change as often.
Mario and Luigi both have been played by one man for the past three decades, that man being Charles Martinet. However, he isn’t playing Mario or Luigi in this new movie, but Nintendo claims he still has a role in it. This feels like a stab in the back to Martinet to go around and replace him with someone more famous.
I think it’s fine to use a celebrity to voice a character that didn’t have a voice before. The newest installment in the “My Little Pony” franchise had big names like Vanessa Hudgens and James Marsden play some of the main characters. This is an instance where having celebrities voice these characters is alright because they aren’t replacing a mainstay voice actor. Mario has had one voice for 30 years, a voice that is one of the most recognizable voices in entertainment, and to replace that voice with someone purely for something to slap on the poster feels shallow and corporate to me. I also know that movies have been using star power for their voice actors for years. For example, “Shrek” is one film that had plenty of celebrity voice actors. But “Shrek” didn’t have to rely on big names to make and sell a “good film.”
I have a good feeling as to why movie casting directors use celebrity voice actors, especially in movies aimed for families. They use it to say, “Hey, remember Charlie Day from ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?’ Well now he’s Luigi!” I feel it’s to get more people to see the film, but star power shouldn’t have to be the only thing that gets people to see your movie.
Moving forward in the industry, I believe star power is not the only thing to rely on when making a film, especially when the film in question is based on a pre-existing franchise. A movie should be able to bring in an audience from the content of the film alone and shouldn’t rely on big names to make money. Voice acting is a talent that shouldn’t be tossed aside for bigger names in the industry. Actors have their whole body to express a character’s emotions, thoughts and personality. Voice actors use only their voice to express all this, and many do a great job at it. Sure, bigger names will attract more eyes to a movie, but if that talent is only there to make a quick buck, actual voice acting talent is being wasted.