Commentary

Nintendo, Illumination In Talks To Make Animated Mario Flick

Super Mario will be bringing his wrenches and magical brand of justice to the big screen if a deal being discussed by Nintendo and animation studio Illumination Entertainment gets signed.

It would be “one of the highest-profile licensing deals by a Hollywood studio in years,” write Ben Fritz and Takashi Mochizuki in breaking the story for the Wall Street Journal. Neither company would comment on the report or to reporters who followed up on it.

“Nintendo’s marquee characters have long been tempting to Hollywood, particularly now that the movie business is driven by globally popular franchise films featuring well known brands like Marvel superheroes, Fast and Furious and Harry Potter. The dozens of Super Mario Brothers games and their spin-offs are widely believed to be the best-selling videogame franchise ever, having sold more than 330 million units total, according to Nintendo,” Fritz and Mochizuki continue.

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“It would be a big move for Nintendo, which hasn’t attempted to bring its major gaming properties like Mario to the big screen in nearly 25 years. Nintendo, along with several other film studios like the now-defunct Hollywood Pictures, released a live-action Mario movie in 1993, but the film was a dud at the box office as well as with critics,” recalls Jonathan Vanian for Fortune.

“The timing for a potential ‘Super Mario Bros.’ film couldn't be better since franchises from Star Wars to Marvel to Harry Potter are the current coin of the realm in Hollywood, scoring big buzz and big box office numbers. It would also be good timing since Nintendo, as well as the Super Mario brand, are in the middle of a resurgence,” writes Frank Pallotta for CNN Money.

“Video game movies have a mixed record in Hollywood. Three were released last year — Sony’s animated Angry Birds; Legendary’s live-action Warcraft, which performed well in China; and New Regency’s live-action Assassin’s Creed. Angry Birds turned in a decent performance with a sequel in the works for 2019,” observes Dave McNary for Variety.

“While not yet official, the news is in line with Nintendo’s recent push to move beyond the traditional realm of video games. The company has started a mobile initiative to reach new customers, teamed up with the likes of Vans and Uniqlo for clothing lines, and struck up a deal with Universal for Nintendo-themed attractions at multiple theme parks. Meanwhile, the timing also seems to be right, with Mario fever in full swing; the mobile release Super Mario Run has been downloaded more than 200 million times, while Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch came out last month to rave reviews,” Andrew Webster writes for The Verge.

“Along with Super Mario Bros., Nintendo properties include the Zelda, Donkey Kong and Kirby games, as well as the massively popular Pokemon franchise. Last year, it was announced that Legendary Entertainment had closed a deal with The Pokemon Company, which handles all the franchise rights from the Nintendo game, for a live-action film franchise based on Detective Pikachu,” writes Mia Galuppo for the Hollywood Reporter.

“There have been 20 animated films based on the Pokemon stories and characters, but outside of these Nintendo has proved wary of Hollywood handling adaptations of its games,” she continues.

“Let’s be honest: An animated Super Mario Bros. movie would be a license to print money, operating as a kind of multigenerational nostalgia-fest not unlike (relatively speaking) Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc.’s It. And there is a certain irony in the idea of Super Mario Bros. being both the start of a 25-year failed quest to turn video games into IP on the level of comic books and the one that finally hits pay dirt,” observes Scott Mendelson for Forbes.

Then there are those of us among us who look at Super Mario Brothers as the start of a 25-year failed quest to compete with their kids at videogames, but that’s another story entirely.

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