9 big questions about the ‘Super Mario Bros. Movie’ trailer

The public is now at least a little bit more aware of the ambition behind Nintendo’s highly anticipated “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.”

The title itself asserts significance. It’s not “Super Mario Bros. The Movie,” as the 1993 live-action film called itself. That film was blasted so hard by critics that it shelved the idea of a Mario-based film for three decades. (The Washington Post went against the critical consensus; our review calling that film “a blast” is forever emblazoned on the cover of its VHS release).

No, today, we’re considering “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” titled as if it’s the one and only Mario-based film to ever exist. Before Thursday’s trailer, the scope of the film remained a mystery, and its confounding casting choices (Keegan-Michael Key as Toad?!) kept longtime fans wondering: “Just what the heck kind of movie is this going to be?”

Thursday’s trailer answered a few questions: The film will cover the Mario brothers’s first appearance in the fabled Mushroom Kingdom, as Bowser, king of the Koopas, steals a star from another kingdom. Still, there are several unanswered questions when it comes to what kind of Mario story will be told.

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For help answering these questions, The Washington Post asked a knowledgeable source: Mario and Sega influencer Michal Miexriir, a woman who made headlines in 2018 for giving a PowerPoint presentation on the topic: “An Exploration of Shadow the Hedgehog’s Moral Compass.” Miexriir has a publicly documented history of overthinking the lore behind her favorite characters, including Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and Kirby.

After some discussion with Miexriir, here are the biggest questions we have, given the scant information Thursday’s trailer offered. We hope Nintendo and Illumination will address these in the full film.

1. Where is Mario coming from?

We now know that Mario (and theoretically, his brother Luigi) are being teleported into the Mushroom Kingdom. Since unveiling his Mario voice, it’s generally believed that Chris Pratt is aiming for a light Brooklyn-flavored accent. Is Mario from Brooklyn?

In “Super Mario Odyssey,” there’s a shadow version of New York City called New Donk City. Its humans are shaped like the humans of the real world. But it only emphasizes that Mario is not at all shaped like us, or any traditional human. Instead of looking like a normal man, Mario is shaped like a baby, except with a mustache. In the origin story written by Nintendo, and conveyed in “Yoshi’s Island,” we never witness the birth and parentage of Mario and Luigi. They are delivered to Yoshi fully formed as babies, except without their mustaches.

Mario and Luigi may be a different type of humanoid altogether. Is Mario’s home world our world, where humans are stylized baby-shaped characters? Are the humans there normal-sized like us? Are Mario and Luigi the exceptions? After 40 years, this remains the biggest question at the roots of the Mario bros’ history. We have no idea what kind of “man” Mario is — if he is “man” at all.

Miexriir wondered which era of humanity is Mario born into.

“It’s hard for me to imagine Mario with a working understanding of the internet,” she said.

2. What is Bowser’s journey?

Miexriir points out that we barely get to see Bowser execute his plans in-game, but the trailer showed a unique angle of the turtle villain fans have never seen. The trailer showed Bowser actually leading his army against the nation of penguins from “Super Mario 64.”

“In most games, we see Bowser early in the story and establish his general plan or motivations,” Miexriir said. “Like, he’s going to steal all the stars from various planets to make his own galaxy … or that he just really thinks he and [Princess] Peach would make the perfect power couple. After that initial introduction, it’s pretty rare for the player and Mario to stick around to see the actual execution of his plans.”

The film medium offers video game storytellers room to expand on motivations. The Sonic the Hedgehog movie, for example, told us that its villain Dr. Robotnik is an orphan. The Mario film may offer more insight into the Koopa king.

3. What is the jurisdictional governance of the penguin nation?

The penguins in the trailer were easily the biggest surprise appearance. Penguins in Mario games have been a recurring presence since 1996′s “Super Mario 64,” where a level named Cool, Cool Mountain introduced us to penguins who love to race by sliding down the mountain.

In the film, these penguins have been elevated to an entire identifiable nation state, complete with a monarch (voiced by “The Walking Dead” actor Khary Payton).

“Why did the Cool, Cool Mountain kingdom have that star?” Miexriir asks. “Are these penguins defending their home against Bowser as an aggressor, or are they specifically defending the star itself?”

She said they may be compared to the echidnas of Sonic the Hedgehog lore, who are tasked with guarding similarly powerful objects called the Chaos Emeralds. Are the Cool, Cool penguins now guardians of power? Are there other penguin kingdoms Bowser must topple? This leads us to further questions about the scope of the Mushroom Kingdom.

“Does the ice kingdom fall under the jurisdiction of the Mushroom Kingdom?” Miexriir asks. “How many kingdoms will be featured, and are all of them proper kingdoms with some sort of monarch? Will the water world have a king Blooper or king Cheep Cheep, or are some areas ungoverned?”

4. How many Toads is Keegan-Michael Key?

When announcing the voice cast, Key was labeled simply as “Toad.” Toad is not just a character, though; Toads are a race of beings. This is like casting Keegan-Michael Key as “Korean.” Is he giving voice to every Korean person, or just a Korean person named Korean? That is the conundrum anyone faces when depicting Toad, who is both a person and a people.

We know for a fact that Key is voicing Captain Toad, one particular toad featured in the trailer. But until we hear other Toads, this remains unanswered.

5. Will Mario become more stereotypically Italian?

The most jarring aspect of the Mario film is hearing Mario speak intelligible, complete sentences. The 1990s cartoon “Super Mario Bros. Super Show” gave Mario a distinct New York accent, but since “Super Mario 64,” Mario’s voice has been defined by the high-pitched whoops and hollers of Charles Martinet, who portrays Mario with a wild caricature of Italian men. Chris Pratt, meanwhile, seems to be leaning on the stock, everyman voice he’s deployed in movies such as “The Lego Movie.”

Martinet is still reportedly voicing characters in the film, in what Nintendo has described as a “surprise” role. Could it be that Mario’s speech patterns will evolve from regular English to Martinet shouting “YIPPEE” by the end? The arc of the hero’s journey may be a Mario triple-jump: from Brooklyn-based everyman to a superhero speaking in an unintelligible tongue.

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6. What is the role of Princess Peach?

Princess Peach is the archetype of the damsel in distress. However, her role in the games has evolved over the years, sometimes joining the adventure, and other times being completely unbothered by her kidnapping.

Peach, voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy, doesn’t appear at all in the trailer. It may be that her kidnapping isn’t the crux of the story at all, but we’ll have to wait and see whether Hollywood is able to properly evolve her character. Is she connected at all to the star Bowser collects? (The nature of the stars in the film is another question altogether).

“Also possible Bowser will just straight up be horny for Peach, but she’ll have enough agency to put up more of a fight in this iteration,” Miexriir said.

7. Where will Mario keep his coins?

Collecting coins is a key activity in Mario games, although its role has diminished over the years. In the original 1985 game, collecting 100 coins would grant you another “man” or “life” — or a 1up, in the parlance of the game. Later games turned coins into currency. In the case of the Galaxy series, it was tied to Mario’s health.

“Does the movie spend time establishing some kind of infinite wallet mechanism?” Miexriir asks.

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8. What is the nature of death in the Mushroom Kingdom?

As discussed, Mario is able to gain new lives by collecting coins. The game is marketed toward children, but almost every game is insidiously and surprisingly difficult. Death is a core part of the Mario experience.

In the movie, will Mario be able to gain new chances at life by collecting coins? In the trailer, Captain Toad says some mushrooms can be poisonous. Do others offer some temporary form of immortality?

“Do deaths in the Mushroom Kingdom mean death in real life?” Miexriir asks.

9. And finally, what does Mario want?

The Mario movie is an isekai, a Japanese genre of storytelling in which the protagonist is magically teleported from their home to another, unfamiliar environment. But beyond that, what will Mario’s main motivation be? From what we saw in the trailer, it’s possible that he and his brother Luigi are separated at some point.

“Is he trying to get back home? Get back to his brother?” Miexriir asks. “Will there be an emotional choice regarding whether he should go back home or stay?”

The games never really explain why Mario wants to rescue the princess, or save the Mushroom Kingdom. Is Mario just a good Samaritan? As with Bowser, the film could be a real chance to get to know the baby mustachioed man — and what moves him. Everyone wants something different from a Hollywood-backed Mario film. But it’s high time we asked: What does Mario want from all of this?

Hopefully these questions are answered once the film is released in May.

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