Chris Pratt Getting Defensive About His Super Mario Bros. Voice: A Timeline

It’s-a this guy. Photo-Illustration: Vulture. Photos: Getty Images; Universal Pictures

[Normal man voice] “All right.” [World-weary sigh] “Let’s-a go.”

This is how Chris Pratt delivers the world’s most iconic video-game character’s most iconic catchphrase in the trailer for the upcoming Super Mario Bros. movie. Stripped of all joy, all bounce, all adorable high-pitched pep. I know that’s the point. I know these trailers for feature-length adaptations of nostalgic childhood staples keep returning to the same tired joke from the same boring well that sites like Funny or Die and College Humor dug 15 years ago: What if happy nostalgia thing was gritty and/or grounded now haha? Not haha, guys. Not haha. This approach can work when there’s a very specific creative vision in mind, like making Pikachu a grizzled noir detective. But unless you’re the cinematic geniuses behind that masterpiece of a Nintendo adaptation, it can read as lazy and noncommittal. And that’s not to say the upcoming Super Mario Bros. looks grimdark; it’s obviously very sprightly and squishy and colorful. I’m just saying that, much like how certain actresses don’t really scan in historical dramas because they just have faces that look like they’ve seen an iPhone before, Pratt’s ever so slightly Brooklyn-inflected normal-guy voice for Mario is a voice that just sounds like it knows what DraftKings is.

Major animated releases now, as a rule, cast celebrities using their normal voices in roles that would have once been filled by talented voice actors coming up with larger-than-life sounds to match the toons. It’s as if the studio thinks Chris Pratt is a bigger A-list draw than Mario himself. If they were gonna go the celeb route instead of casting longtime Mario actor Charles Martinet, they could have at least done a big swing and tapped someone Italian American. Imagine: Ray Romano as Mario! Adam DiMarco double-cast as Luigi and Demon Twink Waluigi!

I believe that Pratt has the juice, theoretically, to have made this role work. Star-Lord, Emmet, and Andy Dwyer all work. But ever since the first trailer release in October 2022, Pratt has been made well-aware of people’s backlash to The Voice, and he’s taken pains to explain himself. Read it yourself, below.

November 22, 2021: Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri tells TooFab, “All I can tell you is the voice that he’s doing for us in Mario is phenomenal. I can’t wait for people to hear it.” Regarding backlash about the casting, he adds, “Well, as an Italian American myself, I understand the comments. Charlie Day, who’s playing Luigi, actually comes from Italian heritage. So that’s our nod,” but insists that the classic Mario voice is “not the tenor of the performance throughout the film.”

June 23, 2022: “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,” Pratt tells Variety, promising, “I’m providing a voice for an animated character, and it is updated and unlike anything you’ve heard in the Mario world before.”

October 6, 2022: The trailer drops, and Mario really does just sound like a 5 percent more Italian Chris Pratt. Like Rocket Raccoon’s WASP cousin.

March 10, 2023: Pratt goes on the defensive on The Kelly Clarkson Show, saying that in the video games, “You don’t hear him say a whole lot. And really, the video game itself doesn’t truly explore the character of Mario.” He says that Mario is less of a character and more an avatar for whoever’s playing him, which is certainly one justification for sounding extremely bland. “So when they wrote the script and they reached out to me about doing it, it was really about, how are we going to flesh out this character? And who is this guy? What world does he live in?” By making the character sound more boring, clearly! “They don’t really know his story, other than that he’s on a mission to go save a princess. So fleshing out his voice was part of that, and finding the best voice that would suit a 90-minute-long narrative.” Characters can have cute voices and sustain interest; Mickey Mouse has been doing it for like 100 years!

March 16, 2023: On BBC’s The One Show, Pratt explains why he felt comfortable diverging from the voice. “There’s only a handful of things we’ve ever really heard Mario say. There’s ‘wahoo!’ … ‘It’s a-me! Let’s-a go!’ Those kind of things. We were trying to find a way to put that into the movie, but in a way that would be congruent with a storyline of these working-class American guys from Brooklyn.” Yes, because that’s what people love about the Mario games: It’s a true Bensonhurst story. Charlie Day interrupts Pratt before he goes full Connor Roy “working-class American guys,” saying that it’s fruitless to do the voice as a celeb, because, “People know it’s you!” Maybe that’s the problem with casting celebrities in iconic animated roles, Charlie. You ever think of that, Charlie? (To be fair, I think Charlie Day has a perfect cartoon voice.) Pratt says he asked the directors, “At one point, can I just say, ‘It’s, uh, me?’” Now he’s just trolling us.

March 27, 2023: Extra’s Jenn Lahmers has the journalistic integrity to ask Pratt, “What do you say to the people who say you need to sound more Italian?” Pratt answers, “Come watch the movie. Go watch the movie, and then we can talk. I really think, that like, once you see the movie … and you know what? In all honesty, I think you probably need to watch it twice. In all honesty, the answer though is, this is a passionate fanbase. It makes sense. I’m part of it. This is the soundtrack to your youth. You don’t want someone to come along and cynically destroy it as a cash grab with a movie. I fully understand that. You do not want that to happen.” But he insists that the film “honors the world of Mario” and teases, God help us, a cinematic universe.

March 31, 2023: Chris Pratt promotes the movie on Today, and is immediately upstaged by Al Roker’s delightful Mario impression. Then he asks Pratt, “What was it that got you into the mindset to come up with that voice?” Pratt says, “Thirty years of playing the Super Mario Bros.,” when he should be saying, “Forty-three years of being alive. Because it’s just my voice.” It’s just egregious at this point, to ask Pratt about developing the voice as though it was a radical transformation. Even Pratt seems over the question. He shrugs. “So it really, you know, um, that’s it. Just knowing the games, loving the games, talking to the directors and the writer on who this character is, and moving this out of the video-game world into the narrative film world. We get to learn a lot more about these characters, and ground them in reality, and come up with the voice.” We (families with children) come to this place (a Super Mario movie) for “grounded reality” (what?).

He says he practices the voice in the car, and says he “tried a lot of different stuff” over two years of recording sessions for the film. Then he passes the buck to Universal. “Of the multitude of options I had given them, they picked the voice.” He then addresses a child reporter, saying, “I showed up to work, and did my best, and that’s how I did it.”

April 1, 2023: “People are passionate about this character and they’ve probably seen some of their favorite IP getting screwed up,” Pratt tells The Hollywood Reporter at the Super Mario Bros. Los Angeles red-carpet premiere. “It’s kind of a cynical business. People make movies just because a title has reach.”

THR also speaks to director Aaron Horvath, who cites the Super Show! cartoon of 1989 and live-action film of 1993 as precedent for replacing the character’s adorable Italian-ish accent with a Brooklyn-ish one. These are not exactly considered … great … adaptations though.

“So it’s a big challenge,” Pratt adds. “Just because something has reach doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good movie and there’s instances of people making bad movies and ruining people’s childhoods. The pressure was on to not do that and, thankfully, we didn’t. I think the movie is fantastic and I think your childhood is firmly intact.”

Chris Pratt Defending His Super Mario Voice: A Timeline