In a recent interview, Nintendo head designer Shigeru Miyamoto (宮本 茂) said that the company may finally start taking their beloved franchises to the big screen. Miyamoto said:
We’ve had, over the years, a number of people who have come to us and said ‘Why don’t we make a movie together—or we make a movie and you make a game and we’ll release them at the same time?’ Because games and movies seem like similar mediums, people’s natural expectation is we want to take our games and turn them into movies… I’ve always felt video games, being an interactive medium, and movies, being a passive medium, mean the two are quite different….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 summary, Nintendo realizes that taking something interactive like a video game and turning it into something more passive like a movie is a challenging process. However, expanding Nintendo into different forms of entertainment is still something that the company is interested in doing.
If Nintendo wants to make movies, the first thing they should understand is that they must be animated and not in live action. While one could argue that the Legend of Zelda characters could work in live action, cartoonish characters like Mario, Kirby and Star Fox simply would not look right. Gritty live action versions of colorful characters are often the subject of parody, and should not even be considered by Nintendo. Would you honestly want to see something like this...
Moreover, perhaps the most important thing that Nintendo should (and hopefully will) understand is why previous game-to-movie adaptations failed. Previous adaptations took only the bare basics of the source material and put them into an unfaithful and shallow product.
The last attempt at a movie based on a Nintendo property was 1993's Super Mario Bros., a disastrous attempt to make a gritty, marketable film for general audiences. Bowser/King Koopa was portrayed as a bleach-blonde Dennis Hopper and the Mushroom Kingdom was a grimy, dark city. It ended up failing with critics and audiences and is still known as being one of the worst and most unfaithful game-to-movie adaptations of all time (as if most video game movies were ever faithful to begin with).
Even to this day, studios like Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox are pretty much incapable of making a good video game movie, as evidenced by this year's Pixels and Hitman: Agent 47 respectively. Studio higher-ups could care less about making game-to-movie adaptations respectful and memorable and more about giving them flashy aesthetics hoping that they could gross enough money from casual crowds. Most of today's current studio executives did not grow up with video games, and thus do not have an interest in them to begin with. This leads to them hiring writers and directors who don't understand what people love about video games or how to put that love into a film.
Pixels was a mashup of awful jokes and unlikable characters mixed with the occasional video game character and/or 80s song to trigger knee-jerk nostalgic reactions. The effects were nice, but the film treats its licensed characters with no real respect or understanding. Instead, it just throws the characters on screen and hopes that enough people will go "hey, I remember that" and forget about the poor overall quality of the script. It was the film equivalent of fruit stripe gum; it gives gamers a short burst of nostalgia before making them indifferent with an overall lackluster film.
Hitman: Agent 47 took the slick, stealth-based elements of the video games and traded them in for generic wannabe-matrix-style setpieces, guns and explosions. Once again, the people behind the film took no interest in what people love about the games and instead slapped the licence onto an easy-to-write action film to wring a few bucks out of audiences.
It's obvious that the creators of the games had little to no involvement in these movies. Therefore, it would be interesting to see what Nintendo could do if they themselves produce their own films. Hopefully, the movies will be much more faithful to the beloved games that inspired them and really give a reflection of what drives fans to play them.
Conversely, while it is important to stay faithful to the source material, Nintendo should still be willing to take a few creative liberties. Like Miyamoto said, without the interactive elements of the games like smooth controls and engaging gameplay, turning them into movies can prove challenging. For example, the typical damsel-in-distress storyline, while being a staple of the Mario and Zelda games from the beginning, is a dated plot element in film.
Much like Peter Parker getting bit by a radioactive spider, audiences have already seen Mario/Link save Peach/Zelda, and without the ability to interact with the characters on screen, audiences need a reason to keep watching.
Look at The Lego Movie; its detailed animation and numerous references were nostalgic enough, but it also had well-examined themes of fatherhood and creativity. The character Emmet represented every child who wanted to look past the instructions and try their own ideas. Some may scoff at how "weird" something like a double-decker couch sounds, but it could still end up being a great idea after all.
A Super Mario Bros. movie could explore themes of leadership. On the surface, it could still be the classic tale of Princess Peach being kidnapped by Bowser, but it could still be more than just that. Just like in New Super Mario Bros. U, perhaps Bowser could take over Peach's castle and hold her and her entire staff hostage. Much like the president in Olympus has Fallen, Peach must prove that she is a competent leader in a hostage situation, and could even help out Mario by sending him secret notes and health powerups like in previous Mario games.
Instead of a one-dimensional bad guy, Bowser could be a somewhat misunderstood father who wants to give his son Bowser Jr. a mother. This plotline was previously explored in Super Mario Sunshine and the Super Mario Adventures comics, and could certainly be carried out in the film adaptation. Again, the theme of leadership can come into play here, as Bowser learns throughout the film that he could be a competent single parent on his own. He could still be a villain by trying to destroy the Mario Brothers and having an overall bad attitude, but he could still be a fun villain like Captain Hook in Disney's Peter Pan.
As for the Mario Brothers, Mario could be more than just a mild-mannered and likable Italian stereotype. He could be like Fix-It Felix Jr. in Wreck-It Ralph and be a good-hearted guy but slightly naive at the same time. In Wreck-It Ralph, Fix-It Felix Jr. is a good guy, but doesn't understand how Ralph truly feels about his status as a villain. Perhaps Mario tries too hard to protect his younger, more timid brother Luigi from danger and doesn't realize he's holding back Luigi's true potential. At the end of the movie, Mario can finally stop being overprotective of Luigi and let him contribute his own ideas to defeat Bowser's evil plans.
Note: Mario's dialogue must be carefully written to avoid lines like "all toasters toast toast."
There are several possibilities for other Nintendo movies. A Star Fox movie could be a humorous, witty and somewhat dark sci-fi tale in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy.
A Pokemon movie could be about Ash and Pikachu forming a friendly bond to defeat Team Rocket like Hiro and Baymax in Big Hero 6. A Legend of Zelda film could be a grand fantasy adventure like The Dark Crystal where Link and Zelda work together to defeat Ganondorf's reign of terror. The possibilities are more endless than the 1up trick in the original Super Mario Bros.
All of these films could even be a part of a Nintendo Cinematic Universe that fans have been craving for so long. Super Smash Bros. could be like The Avengers and see all of the heroes (and perhaps even villains) combining their strengths to defeat the evil Master Hand.
While nobody can predict what approach Nintendo will take with their movies (or if they'll even get made), one can only be optimistic that Nintendo will make the right decisions with what to do with their property. Just as long as they keep Happy Maddison far, FAR away from it.