Nintendo Can’t Repeat This ‘Super Mario Movie’ Error With ‘Legend of Zelda’

The Big Picture

  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie lacked world-building, which wouldn’t work for The Legend of Zelda since it relies heavily on expansive lore and unique areas.
  • The adaptation of The Legend of Zelda needs to target an older audience, as the franchise has fans of all ages and contains darker themes and more action.
  • The film should focus on a single game’s story instead of combining elements from multiple games, in order to avoid oversimplification or overcomplication.

Well, it’s finally happened. Last week, in a press release from Nintendo, it was announced that a live action The Legend of Zelda is now in development. It naturally created quite an uproar, with both excitement and outrage, that has yet to die down and has sparked heaps of debate, theories, and long lists of dos and don’ts. However, the announcement actually came with expectation rather than surprise. After all, this year’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie (directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic) was a huge success, even with mixed reviews, earning $1.36 billion at the global box office and edging out Frozen for the number two spot on the list of highest grossing animated films at the global box office. It’s also become the highest grossing video game film of all time. So why not try to bottle lightning, right? Surely adapting another beloved franchise for the big screen can only go well.

While The Super Mario Bros. Movie was a success, the formula of the movie won’t translate to the Legend of Zelda. There’s a pretty glaring reason for this: world-building. While the Mario franchise has the luxury of tossing characters in without a mountain of exposition, the Zelda franchise doesn’t.

The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Cover

The Legend of Zelda

The evil demonic King Ganon has kidnapped Princess Zelda of Hyrule and held her captive. He put a spell on his lair, so the only way to get in is the three magic pieces of the Triforce – Power, Wisdom, and Courage. It’s up to a young boy named Link to go through different dungeons, collect shards, make them into the three Triforce pieces, break the spell, defeat Ganon, and save the princess.

Created by
Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka

First TV Show
The Legend of Zelda

Video Game(s)
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Nintendo Wasn’t Interested in World-Building in ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’

The fact that The Super Mario Bros. Movie lacks exposition is actually a pretty big problem, even if it’s often written off as the movie being for kids or strictly for nostalgia and not needing to have a solid story. The Mario games do have lore, and though it can be inconsistent and change from game to game, there are plenty of stories to work with and areas to explore. However, the film chooses not to work with those things, instead going to the most basic and digestible story that can be told in an hour-and-a-half runtime while also cramming in the most Easter eggs they could. It prevents the world of the Mushroom Kingdom from becoming fully realized and reduces the plot to its simplest roots of fighting the bad guys and saving the princess. While that’s the original basis for the games, the franchise has expanded past it, and just a bit more attention to the storytelling (and maybe a longer runtime) would have prevented some of the film’s harsher reviews.

And again, it still managed to work for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. It’s bright and silly, the story still makes sense, and kids will rewatch it a hundred times. But this is not going to work for The Legend of Zelda, a series that is often a bit darker and more fantastical. It has a heavy reliance on world-building, with each game containing several unique areas with unique inhabitants and expansive lore. While the basics of the series always stay the same — Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf are in a constant cycle of reincarnation, with Zelda and Link locked in battle against Ganondorf’s evil — the actual story lines differ from game to game, adding new characters and elements.

The film needs to follow the story of a single game instead of trying to mix elements and plots from multiple games. This route won’t please everyone, of course. There’s always going to be people upset if they adapt a newer game like Breath of the Wild and other people that will be upset if they choose a more obscure entry like Phantom Hourglass; but this is the route that will allow for the best possible story and world-building. It will prevent things getting muddy, oversimplified, or overcomplicated.

‘The Legend of Zelda’ Adaptation Should Pinpoint an Older Target Audience

Additionally, Nintendo can’t repeat making a story targeted more towards kids. It’s hard to pinpoint who The Super Mario Bros. Movie is for, but because it’s animated by Illumination and full of all the snappy quips and unnecessary slapstick of a children’s movie, it can be assumed that children are the target audience and that most of the Easter eggs in the film are placed for adults. This is another reason the storytelling of the film fell flat. It’s too short, too simple, and too predictable. While this isn’t always a bad thing — films don’t always need to be deep, meaningful masterpieces — it is a bad thing when this particular franchise has fans of all ages. It’s a weirdly common sentiment that, because a movie is for children, it’s allowed to be devoid of any nuance or quality. This shouldn’t be the case, but in many ways, it was for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. It placed big-name actors in roles that would have been better suited to professional voice actors that could give more impressive performances. It traded a compelling story and more comprehensive world-building for corny jokes and overused tropes.

This cannot happen with The Legend of Zelda movie, especially since it won’t be able to hide behind the “made for kids” excuse often awarded to animated films. While most Mario games are rated E, Zelda games are a little more broad, with some entries having the E rating but most having E 10+ or even T ratings. This is because they contain more action, more violence, and darker themes. In order for a film to work, The Legend of Zelda can’t pander to children the way Mario can. It also can’t alienate adult fans the way The Super Mario Bros. Movie did. It needs to find a happy medium in having enough laughs and ease for a younger audience without dumbing it down, and enough action and intrigue for an older audience without turning it into a PG-13 version of Berserk.

Of course, this also brings up the question of what Zelda game should be adapted. That’s a whole can of worms, but if we’re being realistic, there are three options. One is to take it all the way back to the beginning by adapting 1986’s The Legend of Zelda, which is the most logical choice for an origin film. The second is to meet in the middle by adapting Ocarina of Time, which came out in 1998 for the Nintendo 64 and then again in 2011 for the 3DS and contains basically all of the most notable iconography of the series. And, of course, we can keep it modern by adapting 2017’s Breath of the Wild, which would pull in the series’ newest fans and adapt the best-selling Zelda game of all time. Regardless of what route is taken, the film has to appeal to almost all ages in its story and design, and shouldn’t fall into the traps that The Super Mario Bros. Movie did by neglecting storytelling for the easy money that comes from marketing towards young children and adult nostalgia. It should keep its roots as an impressive fantasy story.

And one other thing? Let’s not isekai The Legend of Zelda. It worked for The Super Mario Bros. Movie only because it happens in the games. Nintendo should let The Legend of Zelda take place in its rightful home: Hyrule. No mentions of Earth required.

Legend of Zelda animated series is available to stream on Tubi in the U.S.

Watch on Tubi

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