Culture on My Mind – The Italian Plumber from Brooklyn

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
The Italian Plumber from Brooklyn
April 7, 2023

This week, I’m thinking about Mario. In particular, the voices of the character during the history of the Super Mario franchise.

Today marks the premiere of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, an animated theatrical movie produced by Illumination, Universal, and Nintendo.  It’s the second American movie about the franchise, but it is the third overall following the live-action adaptation in 1993 and the 1986 Japanese anime film Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! (better known by its original title, Super Mario Bros.: Peach-hime Kyūshutsu Dai Sakusen!).

A digression: If you haven’t seen the 1986 anime, Kineko Video has a remastered edition with English subtitles on YouTube. Mario is voiced by Tōru Furuya, who also portrayed the character in Amada Anime Series: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World: Mario to Yoshi no Bōken Land, the Satellaview games in Japan, and a Japanese commercial for Mario Paint.

Anyway, when the first trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, fans complained about Chris Pratt providing the voice for the titular plumber and it got me thinking about the other American English voice interpretations over the years.

Charles Martinet (1992-Present)

The obvious one is Charles Martinet, who has provided the voice of Mario, Luigi, and various other counterparts since 1992. Martinet is a voice actor who literally crashed the auditions for the Mario voice. His guidance was to be an “Italian plumber from Brooklyn,” and Martinet had originally planned to channel the stereotypical Italian American with a deep, raspy voice. In fact, this is what American audiences knew from previous animated interpretations, but he wondered if this would be too harsh for kids. Instead, he toned it down to something more soft-hearted and friendly.

According to an interview with Kotaku, his babbling audition went something like:

“Hello, ima Mario. Okey dokey, letsa make a pizza pie together, you go get somea spaghetti, you go geta some sausage, I getta some sauce, you gonna put some spaghetti on the sausage and the sausage on the pizza, then I’m gonna chasea you with the pizza, then you gonna chasea me with the pizza, and gonaa makea lasagne.”

You read that in the modern Mario voice, didn’t you?

Martinet’s first role as Mario was 1992’s Super Mario Bros. pinball machine, but he was not credited for that work. His first credit was Super Mario 64 in 1996, and he has over 100 appearances to date as the character. That work is in addition to his library of film and television credits.

Peter Cullen and Saturday Supercade (1983)

Martinet wasn’t the first, though. The first long-form appearance of Mario outside of video games was in 1983’s Saturday Supercade, an animated series produced by Ruby-Spears Productions. Mario appeared in the Donkey Kong segments and was voiced by Peter Cullen, the famous actor behind Optimus Prime, Eeyore, Monterey Jack, and many other characters in his nearly 60-year career.

In an interesting bit of trivia, Donkey Kong Jr. was voiced by Frank Welker, who also voiced Megatron opposite Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime in Transformers.

This version of Mario accompanied his girlfriend Pauline as they chased after the giant ape, and his voice was definitely gruff and authoritarian.

Larry Moran and Donkey Kong Cereal (1983)

Around the same time, Mario appeared in commercials for Donkey Kong Cereal. His brief lines were voiced by Larry “The Funny Voice Man” Moran. Moran was primarily known for commercials and gave Mario a higher and softer tone than Peter Cullen, though his “here we go” does sound very close to what Martinet brought to the table a decade later.

Donkey Kong Cereal was a Ralston Purina production that was sweetened corn cereal pieces in the shape of barrels. They later  produced the Donkey Kong Junior and Nintendo Cereal System cereals, the latter of which I remember fondly.

Larry Moran died on December 28, 2017, at the age of 78.

Harris Shore and Donkey Kong/Donkey Kong Jr. Commercials (early 1980s)

Technically the first live-action version of Mario, Harris Shore brought a pretty generic version of the plumber to life in a series of advertisements for the Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. commercials of the early 1980s. Harris Shore would later move to film and television in small character roles and is still active today.

Lou Albano and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show (1989)

In 1989, Mario came to long-form live-action in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! The series ran from September 4 to November 30, 1989, and featured live-action opening and closing segments that sandwiched an animated adventure based on the original Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2. Mario was portrayed in the series (both live-action and animated!) by WWF Hall of Fame wrestler “Captain” Lou Albano, and he was accompanied by Danny Wells as Luigi.

This version of Mario is my Mario. Even though it had a very short run on television, Albano’s interpretation is the one that comes to mind when I think of the character. Albano was an Italian-American and definitely had the accent. His voice was gruff and raspy, but he knew how to lighten it just enough for a kids’ show in the late ’80s.

The live-action side of the show acted as a parody of sitcoms, which were extremely popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s. These segments routinely featured guest stars and slapstick humor, while the animated segments took a deep dive into the video game world. This series also gave birth to The Legend of Zelda“Excuuuuuse me, Princess!” – which ran in the animated slot on Fridays. Mario and Luigi’s animated adventures ran Monday through Thursday.

While Albano was primarily known for his wrestling, Danny Wells was a prolific actor who was best known as Charlie, the bartender on The Jeffersons. He died in November 2013 at the age of 72.

Lou Albano died in October 2009 at the age of 76.

John Lenahan and The Super Mario Challenge (1991)

The Super Mario Challenge was a game show that was produced and aired in the United Kingdom from September to December 1991. It was hosted by American illusionist and entertainer John Lenahan and featured kids who played the first three Super Mario NES games for large gold coins which determined the winner of the overall competition.

Lenahan was dressed in overalls and a ballcap to look the part of Mario, but he played the character straight with his own voice. Technically, he wasn’t portraying Mario, but I’ll count it anyway.

I know Lenahan best from his time at He wrote and podcasted his first novel, Shadowmagic, on the site before it was picked up by The Friday Project/Harper Collins in the UK. Shadowmagic was followed by the paperback of The Prince of Hazel and Oak in April 2011 and Sons of Macha in March 2013.

Walker Boone, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World (1990-1991)

Mario got a lot more gruff in 1990 and 1991 when Walker Boone took over for The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 and the  Super Mario World animated series. It was a huge shift for me since Boone’s Mario lost the softer playful elements that Albano brought. I watched some of Super Mario Bros. 3, but I didn’t tune it for Super Mario World.

Super Mario Bros. 3 is technically the middle part of the 1990s animated Mario trilogy produced by DiC Entertainment. This one aired alongside Captain N: The Game Master on Saturday mornings and focused a lot more on the various elements from the game of the same name. It ran from September to December 1990 and was followed by Super Mario World in the same timeframe during 1991. Super Mario World changed the setting and added characters based on the SNES game of the same name, but it only ran for 13 episodes.

Boone’s acting career lasted for just over thirty years. He died in January 2021 at the age of 76.

Ronald B. Ruben and Mario Teaches Typing (1991)

In 1991, we got Mario Teaches Typing, a PC and Macintosh game in which actor Ronald B Ruben did a really bad Italian impersonation. The educational game spun off from Super Mario World and used that game’s popularity and themes to help kids learn to type. This seems to be Ruben’s only voice credit aside from the video game M.U.G.E.N in 1999.

Nick Glaeser and Mario is Missing! (1993)

Similarly, 1993’s Mario is Missing! was an educational game for PC, Mac, and the NES and SNES systems. Mario had lines of dialogue in the PC version, and they were lighter in tone than Walker Boone’s but sounded pretty generic. Which, if we’re being honest, was the name of the game in 1990s computer gaming.

In this game, Mario was voiced by Nick Glaeser, an actor who has a handful of credits to his name.

David Plaschon and Mario’s Time Machine (1994)

In 1994, Mario was voiced by David Plaschon in Mario’s Time Machine. It’s another educational game on the same platforms as before, and the voice is very similar to Nick Glaeser’s work. This game received terrible reviews and is usually noted as one of the worst among the educational Mario games released in this time period. The only other credit I could find for Plaschon was as a producer for an Aliens video game in 1995.

Marc Graue and Hotel Mario (1994)

Also in 1994, Mario was voiced by Marc Graue in Hotel Mario. This game was one of the four developed for the short-lived Philips CD-i platform that featured Nintendo characters. The other three were Legend of Zelda games. This Mario was back to being gruff and raspy, though somewhat balanced between Albano and Boone. Marc Graue also provided the voices for Luigi and Bowser in the game, and he continues to work to this day providing voices for television and video games.

The Parodies

Before we get to the last (and potentially most infamous) Mario voice, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the parody versions over the years.

  • The Simpsons: Dan Castellaneta voiced Mario in the episode “Marge Be Not Proud” (1995). Hank Azaria voiced him in The Simpsons Game from 2007.
  • Futurama: Maurice LaMarche voiced Mario in the episode “Anthology of Interest II” (2002).
  • Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy: Seth McFarlane voiced Mario in the short “Super Mario Rescues the Princess” (2008).
  • Family Guy: Seth McFarlane voiced the plumber in the episode “Lois Comes Out of Her Shell” (2012). McFarlane voiced Luigi while Mike Henry took on Mario in “Boopa-Dee Bappa-Dee” (2013). The character returned for “Encyclopedia Griffin” (2015), but I couldn’t figure out who voiced him.
  • The Pete Holmes Show: Pete Holmes voiced the character in several “Realistic Mario” shorts, circa 2014.
  • Robot Chicken: Mario was voiced in multiple appearances by Adam Talbot, Seth Green, and Matthew Lillard.
  • Mad: Mario appeared multiple times in the first three seasons (2010-2012) and was voiced by Kevin Shinick.

Bob Hoskins and Super Mario Bros. (1993)

The Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993 was the first live-action film based on a video game. The screenwriters envisioned a subversive comedy similar to Ghostbusters (1984) and The Wizard of Oz (1939), and their script was heavily influenced by Super Mario World and Super Mario Land, both of which were the most recent games of the Mario series at the time. Bob Hoskins played Mario and John Leguizamo played Luigi.

It credits an asteroid with killing the dinosaurs and splitting the universe into two parallel dimensions. The remaining dinosaurs cross into the new universe and create a world called Dinohattan. Mario and Luigi – the Mario brothers, literally Mario Mario and Luigi Mario – are eventually drawn into the parallel universe to rescue Daisy, the long-lost princess of the dinosaur land. The Mario Bros. meet Yoshi and Toad on their adventure, eventually defeating Koopa (who is de-evolved from human form into a T.Rex) and saving the princess.

Super Mario Bros. was a financial and critical failure, and even though Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto appreciated the effort, he felt it tried too hard to replicate the games instead of standing on its own. However, like most really bad movies, it has developed a cult following. After all, the fact that the film was made says a lot about how video games impacted pop culture.

The downside, of course, is that video game movies haven’t really performed well or been well received until recent releases and Super Mario Bros. is the first in that legacy. Werewolves Within (2021), The Angry Birds Movie 2 (2019), Detective Pikachu (2019), Sonic the Hedgehog (2020), and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022) stand out as winners among critical reviews. Warcraft (2016), Rampage (2018), Detective Pikachu (2019), Uncharted (2022), and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022) are the top five worldwide financial performers to date.

Leguizamo liked the script, but Hoskins was unimpressed. The latter also didn’t want to get typecast in children’s films, having recently starred in both Hook and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Hoskins later called the production a nightmare and admitted that both he and Leguizamo were drunk for most of the filming process.

This Mario is pretty much a cynical, blue-collar New York stereotype. It’s not a Mario I think of when the character comes to mind.

Chris Pratt and The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

The entire legacy brings us back to the next interpretation. Mario’s lines in the trailers have been sparse, but what we have heard sounds to me like Chris Pratt channeling a little bit of Charles Martinet and a little bit of Lou Albano. The lighthearted attitude and the Martinet dialogue stand alongside the hard-working hero ethos of Albano’s Mario.

I understand modern fans being upset that Martinet didn’t get the role in this film. He’s been the voice of Mario for three decades. But long-term fans have experienced so many more versions of the character and (hopefully) realize that the legacy surpasses the actors.

He wouldn’t have been my first choice for the character, but I’m willing to see where Chris Pratt takes the plumber from Brooklyn. The trailer looks fun, but my expectations aren’t especially high given the genre. My only real hope is that the movie is well received and performs well so that maybe (just maybe) we’ll finally get a good adaptation of The Legend of Zelda.

Special thanks to the following for the information used in my research:


Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.


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