Chris Pratt's Original Mario Voice Sounded Too Much Like Tony Soprano

Last year on September 23, four words took over the entire internet: "Chris Pratt is Mario." In a Nintendo Direct presentation, franchise creator Shigeru Miyamoto himself announced the company's second attempt in bringing his beloved red plumber mascot to the big screen since the financial failure of 1993's live-action "Super Mario Bros." (which has taken on a cult following in recent years). Collaborating with Universal's animation studio, Illumination Entertainment, Miyamoto took on a creative producer role for the project — this time, he was determined to get everything about his video game world right, and that required the freedom animation provides.

One can imagine the surprise when instead of the traditional Mario voice actor, Charles Martinet (who has multiple cameos in the final film), directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic went with a cast of Hollywood talent, including Chris Pratt as Mario. It's been a point of controversy and a full-blown meme ever since the first trailer, which revealed a much more subdued approach rather than the heightened Italian accent that one would expect from Mario. It wasn't Italian enough, so what's the point?

As more information about the film and its reworked backstory were revealed, including Mario and Luigi's (Charlie Day) new origin as aspiring plumbers in New York, it became more apparent that Pratt was subtly utilizing a Brooklyn accent to fit the new iteration of the character. It still doesn't work for many people, even in the final movie. This week, Pratt told Variety that it could have been a lot sillier. Horvath and Jelenic actually rejected one of his first attempts at the Mario voice because it leaned towards an impression of prestige TV's most famous anti-hero, James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano.

A blue-collar guy from a family of Italian immigrants

While workshopping the first attempts at what would become the Mario voice, Pratt found himself inflecting New Jersey rather than Brooklyn. "For a minute, I walked in and they were like, 'That's a little New Jersey. You're doing a Tony Soprano thing,'" Pratt explained to Variety. "[The voice] was a really exciting and daunting challenge. Talking to these guys, they say, 'You wanna do the Mario movie?' I think both [Charlie Day and I] said yes. Didn't even ask, 'What's the deal? What's the story?' 'Yes, I'm in.' And then we had to really dig in and figure out ... are they Italian? Are they American?"

Turns out, they are both. Horvath and Jelenic explained to TotalFilm that their motivation to cast Pratt as Mario stemmed from their new vision of the character, which involved finding an actor who could realistically embody a "blue-collar guy from a family of Italian immigrants." There was also a motivation to aim for something less over-the-top, as the audience is going to watch the character for an entire 90-min feature-length film as opposed to the games in which Mario is mostly a silent protagonist.

The final film serves as an origin for the Mario gang, even giving Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) a new backstory for why she rules the Mushroom Kingdom. Therefore, the Mario we meet in "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is far from the expert-level Jump Man we know from the games. He doesn't even particularly like mushrooms.

Some mushrooms and power stars for the table

The world of "Super Mario" doesn't have a lot of explicit lore, so changing one of the few consistent things we know about Mario as a character certainly elicits an initial shock, but Pratt feels that people should judge his performance on its own merits. He told Variety:

"To develop the voice, I sampled various Italian and New York accents. As the directors and I developed the character, we came to land on a voice that is different than Charles Martinet's version of Mario, but also different from my own voice ... My hope is that people will come into the movie with an open mind and that once they see the film, any criticism around Mario's accent will disappear."

"Chris Pratt is Mario" is already a meme-fueled pop-culture moment as it is, but we'd love to see the version of "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" that's set in New Jersey, with Pratt's discount Tony Soprano impression included. New Jersey mobster Mario would have therapy sessions with his psychiatrist to unpack all of his confrontations with Bowser in the Mushroom Kingdom. Instead of "mamma-mia," Mario's catchphrase would be "gabagool." But the film has just had an impressive record-breaking debut at the box office, so who am I to question Miyamoto's vision?

"The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is now playing in theaters.