Mario’s Star Turn Validates Nintendo’s Family-Friendly Philosophy

© 2023 Nintendo and Universal Studios
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a mushrooming box office hit.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” continues to pile up the gold coins. On the first of this month, its worldwide box-office revenue surpassed that of 2013’s “Frozen,” making it the second highest-grossing animated film of all time. The movie from Japanese video game maker Nintendo and U.S. animation studio Illumination has attracted children and adults who once played the “Mario” games to movie theaters. Although not well received by film critics, it has set various box-office records in Japan, again demonstrating the strength and appeal of Nintendo’s intellectual property.

The film reproduced many familiar aspects of the game’s world, such as Mario eating mushrooms to grow bigger, the sound effects when he jumps, and the Mario Kart battle scenes. From the scenarios to the settings and detailed backgrounds, no moment made me think, “This doesn’t look like Mario.” In the film’s finale — spoiler alert — when Luigi, the timid little brother, gathers his courage to fight back and save Mario, the moment is accompanied by the games’ “Star” music (which means a character has become invincible). Some audience members even shed a tear, so deeply engrossed they had become.

The characters are also vividly portrayed. Princess Peach, who in the games is mostly a figure to be rescued and protected, has become a fighter for the Toads. Princess Peach is an elegant and dignified princess. Bowser, too, is a villain, but he is not entirely evil. He is not wholly wrong, and he still has a lovable side to him.

Is there more to come?

“We’ll announce it when we have something interesting, so wait until then,” Nintendo has said. But I believe that Nintendo will produce another movie installment featuring these and other popular characters.

Hollywood is now looking for new intellectual property (IP) that production companies can make into world-class films. It is only natural that the success of the Mario movie would draw more attention to video games with strong storylines, prompting The Wall Street Journal to ask in a headline, “Is This the Golden Age of Videogame IP?” However, most game adaptations have yet to satisfy avid fans and movie buffs. Does Nintendo’s success really mark a new era for video game IP?

It’s not so simple.

Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario and producer of the movie, said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun before the film’s release: “Mickey Mouse grew up together with animation, but Mario learned to walk together with digital technology. Every time a new video game console has been released, we’ve tried to create a new Mario game and offer only the exciting ones.”

Nintendo is a well-established company founded in Kyoto in 1889. Starting its business as a maker of hanafuda Japanese playing cards, the company introduced a succession of entertainment-related products, including karuta cards, Western-style playing cards, and home-use video game consoles. With the Family Computer (known outside Japan as the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES), the company discovered the blue ocean of the home video game console with Mario and became a global company. The company’s most outstanding feature is that it has consistently been a content-based “monozukuri company” that creates content together with hardware.

When smartphones were introduced and became casual game platforms that adults and children alike could play with, many game companies began selling their IP externally. However, Nintendo stuck to providing “family entertainment” on its own hardware. The late Satoru Iwata, president at the time, maintained his original line: “We want to continue to focus on fun so that everyone will buy Nintendo hardware and software.”

As a result, Nintendo continued to create the hardware that it wanted to make and created original game consoles such as the Wii and Nintendo DS, attracting new customer segments to the game market. The latest console, the Nintendo Switch, is a simple game console, but it has sold more than 120 million units worldwide.

Also, it is no exaggeration to say that Nintendo is now the only company that makes games that can be present in the “family room” to be shared by all ages.

Miyamoto described Nintendo as having a deep bench of IP besides Mario, like an entertainment company with global talent. “Our goal is to become a brand that makes people say they are comfortable with Nintendo, just like parents show their children Disney movies.” Just as Mickey Mouse has been a beloved character for children and adults for more than 90 years, Mario aims to be an even more beloved character for many years to come.

The Mario series has sold 413 million copies, with 41 games by the end of March last year. The announcement of Nintendo’s next-generation game console is likely to come soon.

Suppose the virtuous cycle in which hardware keeps IP alive continues. In that case, other game companies are likely to follow the trail blazed by Nintendo for quite some time to come.

Political Pulse appears every Saturday.

Shingo Sugime

Sugime is a staff writer in the Economic News Department of The Yomiuri Shimbun Osaka.