As the Houston Press's video game expert, I'm understandably anticipating Disney's Wreck-It-Ralph intensely. I got to see the trailer while taking the kid to Brave, and from the looks of it, we might have this generation's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on our hands.
In case you haven't heard anything about it, Ralph is about the world of video games, everything from classic Atari to Halo. When we shut off our consoles, the characters knock off for the day just like we do at our jobs.
Ralph is the hulking, Donkey Kong-esque villain of Fix-It Felix Jr. For 30 years he's tried to destroy a building while Felix fixes it, until finally Ralph gets hurled off the roof. Now he's grown tired of being the bad guy, and longs to become a hero in another game.
The thing that is getting the movie so much attention is the scene in which Ralph is at a support group for villains. The room is filled with some of the most recognizable names in video game history. M. Bison, Dr. Robotnick, the ghosts from Pac-Man, and even Bowser are all on hand to commiserate on the trouble of doing a job everyone hates you for doing.
These characters are just the tip of the iceberg. There have been confirmed to be 188 different video game character cameos set to appear in the film, including big, big names like Sonic the Hedgehog, Q*Bert, Frogger, and freakin' Neff from Altered Beasts! You shut up, that game was way better than your precious Golden Axe, mocking Genesis snob I just made up.
But one name is definitely missing from that roster, the very face of video gaming himself, Mario. Apparently Disney and Nintendo couldn't come to a monetary agreement over the use of the character, or even his brother Luigi. Director Rich Moore said at Comic-Con that Nintendo wouldn't let him use Mario himself. "And his brother wanted more money."
Think about that for a moment. Disney, which not only has its own empire but is also buried so deep in Marvel money right now that we'd need James Cameron to launch an expedition to find them, decided that Mario was too expensive. Skrillex? He's in, but Mario's not.
Let's look back at Roger Rabbit one more time. Sure, that film has just as many cameos, and some of the big names, like Goofy and Sylvester, are so fleeting as to be near pointless, but the scene that really pulled the whole thing together was that for a few brief seconds, the world got to see Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse interact. It's a short scene, but absolutely nothing screamed, "Cartoon characters are real!" louder than the two most iconic names in children's animation ending up in a comedy bit with Bob Hoskins.
All that, however, is merely to the detriment of Wreck-It-Ralph, not Nintendo. Mario certainly isn't going to suffer any by not being in a Disney film no matter how big it might be. He's the Guinness-recognized best-selling video game character of all time. No one else is even close. In fact, you might argue that Mario himself is more popular than Mickey Mouse. So what's my premise?
Basically, Nintendo has killed a great opportunity to finally get some good movie adaptations made.
Thus far, the only adaptation ever done was 1993's Super Mario Bros. starring Hoskins, John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper. It was a film so bad that the only people who could possibly enjoy it are people who have somehow never seen a movie before. You have to be pretty awful to make people fondly remember Captain Lou Albano and the Super Mario Super Show as a superior product.
That was almost 20 years ago, and since then the only thing close to a licensed film from Nintendo was when a group of fans made a Legend of Zelda movie so awesome that Nintendo basically had no choice but to allow it a limited release. In Nintendo's defense, video game movies haven't gotten much better since the early '90s, so you can't blame them too much for being reticent about letting another stinker foul their brand.
This is Disney, though. Name two bad Disney films. You can't, and Ralph certainly doesn't look anything but terrific. Mario's appearance in the game probably wouldn't move a single game unit more, but what it would do is finally give the plumber something he has never had, a non-game appearance that wasn't completely terrible and unwatchable. It would at least prove that Mario wasn't automatic screen death.
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Really, it's all but bewildering that Nintendo has never been able to get a good movie made for its star. Mario has more than 100 distinct titles he's appeared in, including a 40+ hour roleplaying game co-made by Square. It's not like there isn't enough material to put together a 90-minute film. If they can turn the 336-word Where the Wild Things Are into a movie, they can do it with Mario.
It's possible that Nintendo is holding back use of its big gun in hopes of getting something done itself. Maybe they'll be the new Marvel Studios story of success one day. Certainly that's Gabe Newell over at Valve's plan rather than letting another company try and fail. Still, even by that logic, I think that letting an opportunity to have Mario in a Disney film go by is utter insanity.
Hell, if you'd traded them the use of the character for a Pixar short starring Mario, we wouldn't even be talking about Wreck-It-Ralph right now. We'd be talking about a character gamers have loved for almost three decades finally getting a little bit of the in-screen recognition he deserved.
Instead, the most important video game movie yet, maybe the one that finally overturns the stigma of a genre where Uwe Boll is given millions of dollars to urinate on franchises, will be missing the one person it shouldn't be missing at all.