It’s a daunting challenge. The classic Nintendo game about a pair of Italian plumbers who must rescue Princess Peach from the villainous Bowser has already inspired a critically reviled 1993 movie — it’s a film so bad that John Leguizamo said he and co-star Bob Hoskins drank whiskey between takes to dull the pain. Hoskins was slightly more judicious, saying it was one of the worst movies he ever made.
Meledandri, who is the producer behind “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets,” relishes the challenge of adapting a property that previously suffered a bumpy transition from game console to the big screen.
“I like that this was not done well the first time,” he said. “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.”
And Meledandri thinks he’s hit on the right approach. He reasons that part of the problem that plagued the 1993 movie is that its makers didn’t involve the game’s creator. This time he’s working closely with Shigeru Miyamoto, the designer and producer responsible for cooking up “Super Mario Bros.”
“We are keeping him front and center in the creation of this film,” said Meledandri. “I’ve rarely seen that happen with any adaptation where the original creative voice is being embraced like we’re embracing Miyamoto. There’s a history in Hollywood of people believing that they know better than the people responsible for a property. I’ve made that mistake before.”
“Super Mario Bros.” is in “priority development” at Illumination and could be in theaters by 2022.
“It’s an ambitious task,” notes Meledandri. “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.”
Meledandri’s next film is “The Grinch,” an adaptation of the Dr. Seuss story. One of his key collaborators on that film is Pharrell Williams, the pop star who serves as narrator in the animated adaptation of the holiday classic. Williams previously provided music for the “Despicable Me” films and the pair wants to continue to broaden their working relationship. They are teaming up on an original animated movie that Meledandri says will be “made from scratch.”
“It’s a meeting of the minds, with everyone able to bring their own skill set,” Williams said. “What I love about Chris is he doesn’t make you feel like you’re just being hired to do something. He gives you a seat at the table.”
“He’s always thinking of me for things and giving me new opportunities to learn and grow,” Williams added.
For his part, Meledandri says he wants to keep working with Williams, viewing the musician as a vital member of the Illumination extended family.
“He’s somebody that I will collaborate with as long as I’m making movies,” said Meledandri.