Nintendo’s history in the film world is a spotty one, but the company is gearing up for another run at broadening its franchises—and it’s staffing up as it prepares to do so.
The game giant has purchased Dynamo Pictures, a Tokyo-based visual production company that previously worked with Nintendo on the Wii game Metroid: Other M. It will rename Dynamo “Nintendo Pictures” after the deal closes in October. The unit, the company says, will “focus on development of visual content utilizing Nintendo IP.”
That’s a telling statement for a company that had for many years stubbornly resisted expanding its franchises into non-video game-based worlds. The company is ferociously protective of its properties, perhaps because of the lukewarm reception to several television cartoon series and live-action shows in the late 1980s and the disastrous 1993 live-action movie, Super Mario Bros. (More on that in a bit.)
The change of heart began in 2015, when Nintendo buried a line in its earnings that read, “[F]or Nintendo IP, a more active approach will be taken in areas outside the video game business, including visual content production and character merchandising.”
Still, there was some resistance. At the time, I spoke with Nintendo creative mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto about the possibility of expanding games into the film world, and he wasn’t exactly enthusiastic.
“Because games and movies seem like similar mediums, people’s natural expectation is we want to take our games and turn them into movies,” he said. “I’ve always felt video games, being an interactive medium, and movies, being a passive medium, mean the two are quite different.”
Still, he added, the company was open to discussions.
“As we look more broadly at what is Nintendo’s role as an entertainment company, we’re starting to think more and more about how movies can fit in with that—and we’ll potentially be looking at things like movies in the future.”
In 2017, Nintendo announced a deal with Illumination Entertainment, the animation studio that makes the Despicable Me movies, to make an animated Mario movie, with Chris Pratt voicing the character. It’s scheduled for release in the spring of 2023. And the live-action Pokemon film, Detective Pikachu, was released in 2019, with Ryan Reynolds.
Nintendo’s not the only video game company that’s showing increased interest in Hollywood, after decades of shoddy cinematic interpretations of their work. Sony recently released a big-screen adaptation of Uncharted. And Sega has seen its two Sonic the Hedgehog movies with Paramount earn more than $721 million at global box offices alone.
Perhaps no gaming company has more eagerly embraced the crossover from video games to film than Ubisoft, though. The publisher took an active interest in films related to its properties starting in 2012, overseeing production and launching its own film division. That unit has had its share of growing pains but has hit its stride of late with last year’s Werewolves Within and Apple TV’s Mythic Quest, which has a third season forthcoming.
With the purchase of Dynamo, Nintendo designers (including Miyamoto) will be able to have more control over how their creations are presented and the stories that are told, which (ideally) will create more authentic experiences for the company’s legion of fans.
That wasn’t the case in the 1990s, of course. For those unfamiliar, it’s hard to represent how bad the first cinematic adaptation of Super Mario Bros. was. Mario and Luigi are plumbers, yes, but they live in Manhattan and are trying to rescue Princess Daisy—not Peach—who wears a necklace (made from a meteor fragment) that can free a race of reptilian sewer-dwelling creatures. King Koopa, her kidnapper, hides her not in a castle, but rather in the rat- and garbage-infested underworld of Dinohattan.
It’s even more confusing when you watch it. The film is essentially a nonstop reel of early 1990s’ special effects, with bits of nonsensical dialogue and Princess Daisy screaming “Luigi!!!” used as filler. (Yes, Luigi gets the girl in this one . . . )
Bob Hoskins, in a 2011 Q&A with The Guardian, voiced his regret in taking the role that forced him to slap a comically large mustache on his face and say lines like, “Come and get it, lizard breath!” while maintaining a straight face:
What is the worst job you’ve done?
Super Mario Brothers.
What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.
If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn’t do Super Mario Brothers.