Making a Mario Kart movie

In the weirdest (and dumbest?) edition of this newsletter to date, I explore what a Mario Kart movie could look like, including Adam Driver as Luigi and Margot Robbie as Peach.

I’ll cut straight to the chase: Hollywood should make a live-action Mario Kart movie.

In case you can’t already tell, I did not watch many movies this past week. Hence, this week’s newsletter about a fake Mario Kart movie, which could quite possibly be the best bad idea or the worst bad idea I’ve ever had. I’ll let you decide, assuming you haven’t already x’d out of this email. Either way, I’m blaming it on my decision to wake up at 4:50 on Sunday morning to watch Arsenal play a rather boring game of soccer that they actually managed to win (progress!).

At first glance, the idea of a Mario Kart movie seems silly. Videogame movies have a tortured history. By Rotten Tomatoes score, the highest scoring videogame movie is The Angry Birds Movie 2, but even that film (which I didn’t see because I still don’t really know what Angry Birds is) only garnered a 73 percent. As a kid, I craved film adaptations of my favorite videogames (deep down, I still wish Neill Blomkamp’s Halo movie hadn’t stalled before takeoff), but at some point along the way (I think it was Hitman that finally did it for me), I realized that videogames and movies were best kept apart as separate entities. And it’s not like the Mario Kart franchise carries the characteristics of great films. There’s not much of a story there. It’s all racing without plot, character development, or purpose. Its only purpose is mindless fun without thought. Pointless entertainment.

But Hollywood loves making movies that already have built-in audiences. Mario Kart, one of the highest-grossing videogame franchises of all time, has that. Whether you grew up playing Mario Kart on your Nintendo 64 (as I did) or still play it today on your Wii (like my dad briefly did during the opening stages of shelter-in-place), Mario Kart has spanned multiple consoles and generations. So long as videogames and humanity exist — at this rate, I’m more confident in the former — Mario Kart will remain a formidable force. Does anyone dislike Mario Kart? A few years ago, we did a videogame fantasy draft over at CBS Sports, during which Will Brinson selected Mario Kart fifth overall. I was devastated Mario Kart was off the board before I was on the clock at the end of the first round.

There’s a built-in audience beyond Mario Kart. Moviegoers love racing movies. I’ve never really loved cars — all I care about is that my car takes me from Point A to Point B and back to Point A without any issues — but I love car movies. Ford v Ferrari was one of my favorite films of 2019. Drive was one of the best movies of the 2010s. Baby Driver floored me. There’s just something about fast-moving cars that lends itself to cinema, from the roar of the engines, to the reaction shots of the driver behind the wheel, to the camera low to the ground moving with reckless abandon. Car movies are a shot of adrenaline. Now, add banana peels, green, red, and blue turtle shells, magic mushrooms, lightning strikes, and outrageous race tracks ranging from a castle with molten lava to a rainbow road in outer space, and mix in great actors with an animated gorilla, dinosaur, and something called a Koopa, and you’ve got yourself a racing movie on acid.

There’s also forward momentum. In 2019, the second ever live-action film based on a Nintendo property, Detective Pikachu, was released to mostly positive reviews and an enthusiastic response at the box office. Now, I’ll admit I never saw the film, namely because I can’t stand Ryan Reynolds and also because, well, I thought it looked as stupid as Super Mario Bros., the first live-action Nintendo movie that was released in 1993 to tough reviews, which I also haven’t seen, partly because I was born in 1992, but also because — again — it looks stupid. But the success of Detective Pikachu proves that a movie that might seem dumb on paper, but has a built-in audience like the Pokemon fanbase (admittedly larger than the Mario Kart fanbase), can find success.

Whether or not I’d see a Mario Kart movie comes down to the people tasked with making the film. In the right hands and with the right casting, I’d watch the hell out of a Mario Kart movie in theaters. In the wrong hands and with an unlikeable cast, I’d avoid a Mario Kart movie like a banana peel in the middle of the street. Which is why I decided to spend my Sunday writing about a fake Mario Kart movie.

I don’t make movies. I write overly long blogs about them. But if I had the power to greenlight a Mario Kart movie, here’s how I’d turn it into a film that at the very least would get me to the theater — assuming Fortnite doesn’t eventually replace movie theaters entirely.

Just as Christopher Nolan intended.

As you read through my fake movie pitch for a Mario Kart movie, assuming you’ve already made it this far, which if you have, boy, you must be bored while you “work” from home, you might be wondering how a movie as dumb as this one could get so many A-list actors. My only response is that Cats was a real movie about singing cats that attracted celebrities like Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Jason Derulo, Ian McKellen, and Taylor Swift. If Cats landed those celebrities, Mario Kart can get Christian Bale, Adam Driver, and Margot Robbie.

Okay fine. Maybe not. But I don’t care. If I’m making a fake Mario Kart movie, I’m doing it my way.

The Story 

Mario Kart isn’t actually one game, but a series of games that includes 14 entries. It’s important to differentiate between the 14 versions. This make-believe film is based on Mario Kart 64.

Released in 1996, Mario Kart 64 features eight selectable characters and four cups, each composed of four different race tracks. I’ve casted the eight characters further down below, but in the meantime, let’s sketch an outline of the story. It’s simple, really. It’s about those eight characters, each of whom are angling to win the four cups: Mushroom, Flower, Star, and Special. The story begins with the Mushroom Cup and progresses through the Flower and Star Cups until the Special Cup, ending of course with the epic Rainbow Road — Mario Kart’s version of Le Mans.

Mario, Luigi, and Peach are the main characters, as the story focuses on the bond between brothers Mario and Luigi, and the budding romance between Mario and Peach. The chief villain is Bowser, who also has eyes for Peach. Side characters include Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, and Wario, who are all mostly there for comedic relief and to support/oppose the four main characters.

An examination of brotherly bonds and a tumultuous romance among iconic racing locations like Koopa Troopa Beach (who else remembers that shortcut?) and Yoshi Valley …

… the Mario Kart movie would offer a filmmaker the chance to construct maybe the most creative racing movie ever. There’s something for everybody.

At the very least, even if the story sucks (a real possibility I’m very much aware of), it’ll provide alluring visuals and thrilling race sequences unlike any other film in history. Imagine Ford v Ferrari, except instead of racing through the French countryside, the drivers are racing through fantastical tracks all the while getting blown up by turtle shells and slipping on banana peels. If there was one thing missing from Ford v Ferrari, it was turtle shells, banana peels, and a green dinosaur.

Writer/Director: Edgar Wright 

More important than the story is the tone. Mario Kart can’t take itself too seriously. It needs to straddle the line between drama and comedy, all the while providing racing thrills and romance. Above all else, it needs to be fun. The kind of movie made for theaters with a big screen and loud speakers. Think Ready Player One meets Baby Driver meets Alita: Battle Angel (Motorball > Quidditch, don’t @ me) meets Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

In other words, it’s the perfect project for writer/director Edgar Wright.

Wright’s filmography includes Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, the aforementioned Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Ant-Man (writer only), the aforementioned Baby Driver, and the upcoming Last Night in Soho. I want to focus on Scott Pilgrim and Baby Driver, because those two films demonstrate Wright’s distinct style of filmmaking that would lend itself well to Mario Kart. In both cases, Wright’s commitment to an outlandish and decadent tone made the movies as memorable as they still are today. In Scott Pilgrim, it was the LEVEL UP! and 1-UP animations. In Baby Driver, it was the use of music. Both would come in handy here when you consider how a Mario Kart movie should look and sound. It should be outrageous. After all, there are magic boxes that give drivers bizarre weapons, including a bolt of lightning that temporarily shrinks everyone except the one who wields it.

A movie like Mario Kart needs a writer and director who has the ability to craft an ambitious drama that is funny, exhilarating, and crazy, all with a compelling romance at the center of the film. That’s Wright.

Mario: Christian Bale

Have you seen Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari? He plays a driver who hoots and hollers shit like “bloody hell!” behind the wheel as he passes opponents and deals with a door that won’t close. Bale brings the perfect mix of seriousness, charm, and comedy to a character that is the driving force behind the film. If you don’t think Bale, who was born in Wales, can play an Italian plumber, you haven’t been paying attention to his career. The man transformed into Dick Cheney for Vice and then played Ken Miles (pictured above) in Ford v Ferrari immediately after. With his level of commitment, he can transform into Mario.

Luigi: Adam Driver

The resemblance here is uncanny. No major transformation necessary.

On Wikipedia, Luigi is described as “the slightly younger but taller brother of … Mario.” Driver, 36, is 6-foot-2. Bale, 46, is two inches shorter. Is 10 years considered a slight difference in age? Probably not, but I’d say it’s close enough by Hollywood’s standards.

Ignore the age and height requirements, because even if Driver didn’t pass the requirements, he’d still be the perfect fit. He can do it all — from playing the emo lightsaber- and Force-wielding Star Wars villain, to the one-armed bartender turned robber in Logan Lucky (pictured above), to the father enduring a traumatic divorce in Marriage Story.

Plus, you know, his last name is literally Driver.

Peach: Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie is good at driving in movies. I know this because I’ve seen Once Upon a Time in Hollywood somewhere around 10 times and roughly 50 percent of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is spent in cars, which means Robbie, as Sharon Tate, drives and sits in a car at multiple points in the film. She has this way of driving that makes it seem so serene and peaceful. For as much acclaim as Brad Pitt received for his driving sequences in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Robbie’s are equally mesmerizing.

As Peach, Robbie wouldn’t just be the love interest of Mario and Bowser. She’s far too talented of an actress to be wasted like that. While both hero and villain eye her as a partner, she is an equally formidable driver who challenges for trophies right there alongside Mario, Luigi, and the rest of the cast. She’s as big a part of the story as the two brothers. If anything, she’ll be the beating heart of the film.

Spoiler alert: She ends up beating Bowser herself.

Toad: Michael Cera

I don’t know if I have a logical explanation as to why I see Michael Cera in Toad. I just do.

Toad is a sidekick. He’s not meant to have a fulfilling arc. He’s just there to add some entertainment and lend some help to Peach.

I would very much like to watch Cera put on a mushroom helmet and mutter mildly offensive insults to opponents on the track. According to MarioWiki, Toad has the following four lines of dialogue in Mario Kart 64:

  1. “Yahoo!"

  2. "I'm the best!"

  3. "Here we go!"

  4. "Okay!"

Tell me you didn’t read those lines in Cera’s voice.

Yoshi: Animation voiced by Kumail Nanjiani

Because he’s a dinosaur, Yoshi is an animated character in the film. He’s voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, who recently did voice work as an alien named Pawny in the new Men in Black movie that nobody saw. Nanjiani brings a measure of comedy and sincerity to the film with his background in Silicon Valley and The Big Sick, which ultimately matters more than his voice work in MIB. Like Toad, he’s a sidekick. He’ll have a few cool moments, deliver a few laughs, and ultimately, help the three heroes defeat Bowser.

Bowser: Animation voiced by J.K. Simmons 

Another animated character, Bowser is the Big Bad of Mario Kart. He has an obsessive interest in Peach, who has eyes for Mario, which makes Mario his number one target. As such, Bowser needs to be voiced by someone who can conjure terror using nothing but words. Enter: J.K. Simmons. If you’ve seen Whiplash, in which he plays an abusive music teacher, you know why he’s the perfect pick. He’s terrifying.

There might even be a chance for Bowser to say “Not quite my tempo” or “Are you rushing or are you dragging?” when another driver mistimes the opening countdown.

Wario: Jesse Plemons 

I like Jesse Plemons — not as much as Kirsten Dunst and Matt Saracen do, but more than the entire cast of Game Night and Jesse Pinkman do — and I think his skillset meshes with the tone of Mario Kart, which is why I decided to cast him as Wario. He’ll be awkward. He’ll be funny. He’ll be weird in the only way Plemons knows how to be. While Bowser serves as Mario’s nemesis because of their feelings toward Peach, Wario functions as Mario’s nemesis strictly on the race course.

Besides, have you seen Jesse Plemons drive? It’s delightfully strange.

Donkey Kong: Animation voiced by Seth Rogen 

Seth Rogen has a great voice — so great that he’s the voice of public transit in both Toronto and Vancouver, a job he apparently took in part because too many people clip their nails on the subway. Fire up Monsters vs. Aliens or Sausage Party. In an alternate universe where Rogen’s career as an actor doesn’t ever take off, he’s probably making a living out of doing voice work.

All I want is Donkey Kong laughing like Seth Rogen as he detonates a lightning strike and runs over Michael Cera as Toad on the third and final lap at Moo Moo Farm.