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Mario eyeballing a faucet in the foreground in The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

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Chris Pratt’s Mario movie voice deserves a line-by-line analysis

The Super Mario Bros. Movie showcases a few baffling vocal choices

Image: Nintendo, Illumination/Universal Pictures
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

Would a Mario by any other accent sound as wahoo? We’re about to find out, now that The Super Mario Bros. Movie is out and Chris Pratt’s performance as the jumping red-hatted plumber is being put to the test.

His voice acting has been the source of much concern and consternation since the first trailer dropped. That initial audio reveal showed off vocal choices that were vaguely Italian at best, and as the world waited for the movie, fans didn’t know what to think. Did we really want Chris Pratt doing a 90-minute House of Gucci bit? Should Mario even talk?

Throughout it all, Chris Pratt made the rounds peddling his agenda on the promotional tour, promising that once people just see the movie, they’ll hear what he’s going for. After all, as the man has said, he’s been playing Mario games for 30 years — he knows what an Italian plumber from Brooklyn transported to the Mushroom Kingdom in his infancy by a stork sounds like.

And yet, and yet, and yet! Folks, I am here to tell you that I have seen The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and almost all I could think about was what was going on with Chris Pratt’s voice. It consumed me, like my own mental warp pipe, every time this little plumber-man opened his mouth. It’s hard to say whether it’d be easier if Pratt had just not committed to any purposeful vocal choices at all. Instead, his Mario exists in a strange middle zone, where Mario is unevenly seasoned with… some sort of accent. It’s Mario by way of Brooklyn by way of turning the volume dial down, but smashing it back up for the odd Easter egg.

In a way, Pratt wasn’t kidding when he called this voice “unlike anything you’ve heard.” In another very real way, I will be thinking about my aural journey through Super Mario Bros.’ Mushroom Kingdom for a long, long time. It’s an experience that can only be summed up in chronological order, as a descent into the mundane whispers of madness that is Chris Pratt’s Aggressively Fine Mario voice.

[Ed. note: I guess this post almost vaguely spoils The Super Mario Bros. Movie, but really mostly by hazily outlining the lines where Chris Pratt and others stand out with their performances. If you are particularly precious about spoilers, or just want to be surprised about how you’ll really react to Pratt’s Mario voice, come back after you’ve seen the film.]

It starts with the ad

Super Mario Bros. Movie directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic think they’re being cute when they introduce us to Pratt’s Mario (and his superior brother, Luigi, voiced by Charlie Day) via an exaggerated commercial for their plumbing business. Would you really want this for a whole hour and a half? Wouldn’t that be a little cheap?

Here’s the thing: The exaggerated accent is exhausting, and it’s 100% better than what’s in store next.

Mario defends his brother

And we finally get the reveal: Mario’s “regular” speaking voice in this movie has a Brooklyn accent. Sort of. To quote Chris Pratt’s Mario from the major motion picture trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie: “Heah we go.”

Mario says “mamma mia” in slow motion

Are you kidding me? I understand we’re not committing to the Mario parlance, but we’re just going to make a mockery of Mario and his catchphrases? Ugh, fine; you get one over-the-top reference, whatever.

We’re in the Mushroom Kingdom!

And we’ve abandoned the accent entirely. It’s just Andy Dwyer, chasing after a little toadstool. Thanks, Nintendo!

Oh, never mind, he just asked Peach about “Bowsa”?

Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) leans over and looks shocked at Mario (Chris Pratt) Image: Nintendo, Illumination/Universal Pictures

So apparently we’re just doing an uneven “Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies” thing. The accent will slip out of Mario intermittently like a Piranha Plant slipping out of its pot to attack an unsuspecting plumber, and every once in a while, we’ll be thrust back into the world in which Mario has any sort of identity beyond “red hat guy.”

“I got this, a-no problem”

Case in point: When Mario goes to prove himself on the Mushroom Kingdom obstacle course, he’s back to being our favorite little excessively Italian video game icon.

Bowser says “Oh ho ho ho — wedding bells!” and sanity is briefly restored

Bowser (Jack Black) standing on a cliff with soldiers looking menacing Image: Nintendo, Illumination/Universal Pictures

Jack Black remains the movie’s MVP, and this line reading is exactly why. His voice is deep and gruff, and yet he’s balancing being Bowser without losing the Jack Black-ness of his performance! You can imagine his voice booming out over any Bowser’s Castle levels, carrying over the lava pits of a Mario Kart game, or echoing through Super Mario Galaxy, if only we had game time to listen to his thoughts.

By contrast, Pratt’s Mario is like a Xerox of a La Croix flavor: an already pale imitation made all the more nonsensical by the exercise. I get that Mario isn’t much of a character to play off of, but Mario actually isn’t supposed to lose to Bowser.

Peach warns Toad about danger, and he growls: “I fear nothing”

Again: There are ways to work within the framework of these Nintendo characters, even as you push the boundaries in fun ways, like Keegan-Michael Key is doing with Toad here. Pratt as Mario is sort of doing that — he definitely isn’t just using his own voice. But it doesn’t amount to much more than feeling a little afraid of going Full Mario.

Peach admires a scenic vista, and Mario says “mamma mia”

Mario (Chris Pratt), Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Toad (Keegan Michael-Key) stand and look at the view in a still from The Super Mario Bros. Movie Image: Nintendo, Illumination/Universal Pictures

I said you get one, I was very explicit about this. Commit or don’t, but don’t be wishy-washy about it.

“It’s-a me, Mario,” said in a battle with Donkey Kong (again in slo-mo)

We get it, he’s not gonna commit to the voice. Knock this shit off.

“All right, giant monkey!”

Mario drives his cart and looks back at Donkey Kong who is also driving his kart Image: Nintendo, Illumination/Universal Pictures

Chris Pratt is finally getting into character now, and that character is Billy Crystal.

He does the “wahoo” on Rainbow Road

Sure, OK, I’ll give him that one. Why not, at this point? It’s clear that the movie is letting Mario be talked around more than it’s giving him a real voice in this whole affair; true to the game, Mario seems to chatter the least of the various canonical characters, and at this point, that’s “A-OK” with me.

Mario says “you asked for it” during a battle

OK, never mind, just stop. You’re bumming everyone out.

Mario picks himself up to go back to battle with “let’s-a go”

I want to vanish from this mortal coil.

Good news: Mario wins. Also, the movie ends.

A still from the 2023 Super Mario Bros. Movie Image: Nintendo, Illumination/Universal Pictures

And with that, we close the book on the Super Mario Bros.’ first animated theatrical adventure, and Pratt’s Mario has gotten his happy ending by saving his hapless brother Luigi. The movie ends on a high note: Mario and Luigi wake up in their house, get dressed for work, and step outside into the Mushroom Kingdom, where they’ve made their home (and still use the same types of plumbing tools; who knows why).

Perhaps the real victory is ours. There’s very little talk in the final scenes, and we can finally put this whole accent thing behind us — unless that final credits scene has something to say about the future of Chris Pratt’s Mario adventures. In that case, I agree with that Luma: When will mercy come?