Don’t compare him to Disney: Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto in the Super Mario Bros. movie.

40 years ago, when Shigeru Miyamoto began creating iconic characters and games for Nintendo, he was often compared to Walt Disney, a comparison Miyamoto has long evoked. But decades later, with Nintendo’s theme parks and now an animated feature film based on the Mario version, is the creative face of Nintendo willing to accept the comparison?

Not so fast, says Miyamoto, who sat down with IGN ahead of The Super Mario Bros. premiere. Movie. “When this talk of me being compared to Walt Disney came up 20 years ago, I was like, ‘No, please, I don’t deserve the comparison. “

At the time, the similarities were definitely there. Disney and Miyamoto have both become the faces of companies famous for producing iconic characters as if it were easy. But Miyamoto has regularly fretted over the comparison, pointing to the longevity of Disney creations compared to Mario’s relative youth. Moreover, Miyamoto is pushing against the idea of ​​a single creative vision responsible for the success of any company.

“There was one thing that I found very interesting and curious, and that is that it’s not that Walt Disney himself made all this, it’s Walt Disney and there’s a brand, Disney, that makes this thing,” Miyamoto notes rightly. “And I thought that concept was very interesting, in the same way that we could create Nintendo as a brand?”

Today Miyamoto is proud that Nintendo is a brand that people know as the home of so much creativity. “I think we’ve been able to get to a place where there are a lot of creators, a lot of characters and talent that are at Nintendo, and we’ve come to a point where there are a lot of creative products that people identify with,” Miyamoto says. “But that doesn’t mean there’s a person called Nintendo.” make this. It’s everyone, everyone at Nintendo as part of Nintendo creating this product, and I thought that was really interesting and something I’m really striving for.”

Arguably, the Nintendo brand has never been stronger. When the Wii was released in 2006 and broke all sorts of hardware sales records thanks to its innovative motion controls, later followed by the lackluster Wii U, there were certainly those who thought Nintendo might have peaked. But in 2023, after the industry-changing success of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo has approached Disney. The company has just opened two Super Nintendo World theme parks and is about to release a brand-new animated movie in theaters based on Miyamoto’s most popular character, Mario.

“When this talk of me being compared to Walt Disney came up 20 years ago, I was like, ‘No, please, I don’t deserve the comparison. “

Nintendo and Illumination first met back in 2014, and according to Miyamoto, making a movie at all has always required the talents of the animation giant. So, the idea of ​​making a movie out of games was something that came out that had other shows. And maybe some people also thought that because we make the story in games and the imagery of games all in-house, people thought, well, you can go ahead and make a movie, right? It’s easy. Directing a completely different and unreal movie.

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The movie captures Mario in a way we’ve never seen before. Although his design is iconic, Mario doesn’t have a backstory, or any kind of personality at all. But in the Super Mario Bros. movie. Mario is revived in a new way. He is an ambitious man who, along with his brother Luigi, dreams of becoming a hero in his Brooklyn neighborhood, even if it is just to fix the plumbing for citizens in need.

There’s an underdog edge to Mario this time around, and even a sadness for a life unfulfilled that only changes once he’s magically transported to the Mushroom Kingdom where, at last, he may become the hero he always thought he could make home.

But all of this, of course, is subtext to be drawn between the gorgeous visuals, brash jokes, and delightfully quick story. Mario was originally a vehicle for best-in-class platformers, not an avatar for the existential crisis of modernity. But if Mario’s icon status derives entirely from gameplay, how did he end up being one of the most iconic characters on Earth? Also, a storytelling canvas?

“This is a question I’ve been asked before. Before, I thought it was because the gameplay was what really made Mario, and that as people play and enjoy the game, that experience of playing the game and, as an extension of Mario, becomes a part of them,” Miyamoto muses .

“But now, when I see Mario in movie form, it just kind of drove home to me that this character is something that can only really come from the needs of creating a game. And so, when it becomes a movie, I feel like we can create a really unique hero.” In that sense, because where else can you come up with such a hero, other than to fulfill the needs of the game? So, that was something I was really happy about.”

Not only is Mario different because of his origins as a purely interactive hero, but it turns out that bringing Mario to the big screen ended up exposing a quality of Mario that was lost amid all the jumping and block breaking. “Mario is blue-collar, he’s a normal person,” says Miyamoto. “So, even when he becomes Dr. Mario, there’s a kind of, like, ‘Shadow’, like Can I trust this person?” Miyamoto jokes. “He stayed. And I think that’s the kind of image that’s been passed on for generations like Mario. And to see that image kind of conform, and then evolve, into what it’s like to be a hero, that’s something I’m really happy to see.”

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Mario as the Everyman hero is a masterful piece of storytelling thanks to the partnership between Nintendo and Illumination, Hollywood’s newest company to successfully adapt video games for film and television.

“At Illumination, we’re always evolving our technical capabilities, but I think what we talked about as an approach to the movie was a real commitment to, and homage to, the core design elements that were created for the game and that fans loved,” says Chris Meledandri, founder and CEO of the animation studio, Illumination. The goal is down to the last detail. So, when you see Mario or Peach, what you’ll see on the big screen are the characters you know. But when you start to look closely, you start to see very subtle textures on the dress or how the folds of the dress create shadow.

And so, when you take this approach, what ends up happening is that the world that you’re immersed in while playing games, all of a sudden, comes to life, but it’s brought to life by looking at it through the smallest detail rather than changing any design language.”

“You know, I really feel like the important thing is that Mario lives on as a legacy, as a character, and so, I feel like I don’t even need to be part of that equation.”

Illumination joins a growing list of Hollywood companies excited to work on video game adaptations. When asked about the trend, Meledandri said that while many studios have tried their hand at video game adaptations, no one else has had Miyamoto.

“Looking back, there was this gravitational pull from Hollywood to video games, but with the concern of whether or not they could translate into movies… I think in the past, people struggled with that,” says Meledandri. “We took a very unique approach, which is that we decided from the start that creating this movie would be a full partnership between me, Miyamoto-san, Nintendo and the Illumination team.”

As with Team Nintendo, Miyamoto praises Illumination’s creative talent. “A lot of them were fans of the Mario games. In fact, I felt like some of them were more knowledgeable than I was. And so, that was a great experience as well.”

Together, Illumination, Nintendo, Miyamoto, and Meledandri have managed to evolve Mario for the next generation where IP is no longer stuck in individual channels.

“I knew Mario was a constantly evolving character,” Miyamoto explains. And seeing Mario on the big screen, I feel like there’s this new level of evolution that Mario has reached. And it’s not just about Mario… [At] Nintendo, we have so many different personalities, and I almost see us as a talent agency with so many characters and so many talents that we work with and kind of figure out where they fit in any situation. And in that sense, in this movie, there are a lot of characters that have really done the evolution from a kind of puppet class to a human class. So that’s something I really want to encourage everyone watching the movie to look out for.”

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If Miyamoto downplays the creator’s unique role in creative success, Meledandri backs away from it a bit. “We’ve seen studios take off without a creator and it wasn’t always successful. We’ve seen, at least one example I can think of, where you start a game company, make a movie, and it just wasn’t successful. That was many years ago, not Nintendo. But when you think about this, It makes a lot of sense that you would establish this kind of partnership.”

And who would pass up the opportunity to work with Miyamoto? “The directors, Aaron Hovarth and Michael Jelinek, I mean, it was very exciting for them — and Matt Vogel, our writer, I mean, everyone even… I used to say to Miyamoto-san that everyone at Illumination wanted to work on Mario,” Meldandri jokes. “But the impact on the entire studio, whether it was an individual who was working on Mario or not, just the fact that we were working with Nintendo and Miyamoto-san, motivated the entire creative community at Illumination, and I think you can feel that excitement in the movie itself.”

Shigeru Miyamoto at the Super Mario Bros. premiere.  Credit: GettyImages.  Photo by Kayla Odams/WireImage.

Shigeru Miyamoto at the Super Mario Bros. premiere. Credit: GettyImages. Photo by Kayla Odams/WireImage.

And so we go back to the idea of ​​Miyamoto as an energizing creative force, someone who is excited to work with others and get others excited to work with him – unlike the Power Stars in Mario herself. It’s really hard not to make a Disney comparison here, right? No, of course not.

Miyamoto says when asked how he would like to think about his career that has seen him evolve from a famous game designer to a producer on theme parks and movies.

“What I’ve realized from working on the park and the movie as well is that we’re in a generation where all these people who grew up with Mario are now able to bring together other creators and create something new. I think that’s what’s important. It’s kind of like in the computer world where, in the beginning, I think people who work on the gaming side of the PC maybe–they weren’t looked down upon–but kind of looked at it differently.But now, there are people who have grown up with games in the industry, and I think everyone is seen as equal.I think that’s Which makes me really happy.”

“So, again, I’m fine either way.”

Matt TM Kim is IGN’s Senior Features Editor. You can access it @employee.

Some quotes have been edited or summarized for clarity.

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