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Original Mario Bros’ star slams non-inclusive animation cast

by John Paul
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Actor John Leguizamo, who starred in the original Super Mario Bros. film, has joined the chorus of critics of the forthcoming reboot by condemning the film’s non-inclusive ensemble cast. Luigi Mario, played by Leguizamo, is the Italian-American plumber and younger brother of Mario in the 1993 film adaptation of Nintendo’s game franchise. They travel to the strange other reality of Dinohattan, led by King Koopa (Dennis Hopper). Even if not everyone is on board with Chris Pratt as Mario, he will head an ensemble cast in The Super Mario Bros. Movie that will serve as the beginning of a cinematic universe populated by Nintendo characters.

Recently, in an interview with IndieWire, Leguizamo discussed his experience filming the first Super Mario Bros. film. The actor who previously played Luigi has spoken out against the choice to cast a white actor in the lead role of the next animated feature, calling it a “backward” move for an on-screen portrayal of people of color. Take a look at what Leguizamo said below:

I’m O.G. A lot of people love the original. I did Comic-Con in New York and in Baltimore, and everyone’s like, ‘No, no, we love the old one, the original.’ They’re not feeling the new one. I’m not bitter. It’s unfortunate. The directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton fought really hard for me to be the lead because I was a Latin man, and they [the studio] didn’t want me to be the lead. They fought really hard, and it was such a breakthrough. For them to go backwards and not cast another [actor of color] kind of sucks.

The lack of a true Italian-American in part and the weak performance heard in the recently released teaser are just two of the criticisms leveled at Pratt’s casting as Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Tara Strong, a well-known voice actor, has spoken out against the casting, saying that Charles Martinet, who has voiced Mario in video games for decades, would have been a better choice to bring back for the animated film. But Penguin King voice actor Khary Payton has defended Pratt’s performance in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, saying it’s unfair to say that he’s giving Mario a Sopranos-style performance.

It’s safe to say that many people will agree with Leguizamo’s casting complaints about the Super Mario Bros. movie, regardless of where they stand on the debate around Pratt’s performance. Casting a lone white actor in the part instead of someone with true Italian roots creates a distressing lack of diversity in the film’s roster, even if the rest of Pratt’s work in the role doesn’t prove as horrible as the trailer made it sound. While the casting of Keegan Michael-Key as Toad shows that the producers were open to the idea of an inclusive cast, they failed to capitalize on it properly. While Leguizamo may not have any Italian heritage of his own, he at least brought a sense of diversity to the character in the otherwise terrible Super Mario Bros.

With less than a year until its debut, it’s reasonable to question if The Super Mario Bros. Movie’s box office will be affected by the casting dispute. The animated Nintendo film confronts difficult competition from other recent movies like John Wick: Chapter 4, Shazam!, and Aquaman, and it lacks the advantage of redesigning its namesake character as Sonic the Hedgehog did. Facing off against other role-playing game movies like Fury of the Gods and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves will make it difficult to convince the game publisher that a new film adaptation is a good idea. Moviegoers will be able to form their own opinions about The Super Mario Bros. Movie after it is released on April 7, 2023.



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