According to Illumination founder Chris Meledandri, the animated Super Mario Bros. movie is a "priority" for the studio and may reach theaters within the next four years from now (e.g. by 2022). Nintendo confirmed that it's working on an animated Super Mario Bros. film with Illumination near the beginning of this year, with Super Mario's creator and Representative Nintendo Director Shigeru Miyamoto producing the film alongside Illumination CEO Meledandri. Since then, however, there haven't really been any updates on the project to report.
To be fair, both Illumination and Nintendo have been keeping quite busy with other projects in that time. The latter continues to churn out fresh gaming content for the Nintendo Switch and may be in the early stages of developing a Legend of Zelda TV series with producer Adi Shankar (Castlevania), according to a report from last week. Meanwhile, Illumination is preparing to release The Grinch - a feature-length animated retelling of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas - in theaters this Friday.
In an interview with Variety to promote The Grinch, Meledandri confirmed that Illumination's Super Mario Bros. animated film is in "priority development" and could hit theaters in 2022. He went on to explain what makes the project such a unique challenge for the Despicable Me and Minions animation studio:
"It’s an ambitious task. The challenge is taking things that are so thin in their original form and finding depth that doesn’t compromise what generations of fans love about Mario, but also feels organic to the iconography and can support a three-act structure."
The Super Mario Bros. property, of course, previously made the jump to the big screen in the infamous live-action 1993 movie of the same name (a film that has taken on cult status in the years since). Meledandri told Variety that Illumination is keeping Miyamoto involved "front and center in the creation of this film", in order to ensure that things work out better, this time around. He also admitted that, in some ways, it's easier to make the animated movie, knowing that the live-action Super Mario Bros. film turned out so poorly:
“I like that this was not done well the first time. I think that’s more exciting or more worthy than simply making another version of a film that was done incredibly well to begin with.”
In many ways, the wild realm of Illumination animation - with its colorfully oddball characters and emphasis on comedy fueled by slapstick and sight gags - seems like the perfect match for the equally strange, yet charming world of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and the other residents of the Mushroom Kingdom (and beyond). At the same time, video games are notoriously difficult to translate into three-act film narratives (as noted by Meledandri) and the sheer number of poor video game movies released over the years speaks for itself. The majority of those adaptations were live-action, however, and something like Super Mario Bros. especially ought to translate better into 3D animation than the real-world.
Whichever way this movie turns out, though, it's good to hear that Illumination's adaptation is both moving along at a steady pace and keeping Miyamoto firmly in the loop. We will bring you additional details on the Super Mario Bros. animated movie as they become available.