Zelda Ghibli and Sony Mash-up
Image: Nintendo Life

Picture the scene. You go to watch the Mario Movie in 2023. You realise that it is a stroke of genius, surely garnering a Return of the King number of Oscar nominations and going down in history as one of the all-time greats. The credits roll. Just as you are on your way out with your friends, chortling about Chris Pratt's pitch-perfect performance, a post-credits stinger reveals that the movie, in fact, has more to give.

Returning to his room in the Mushroom Kingdom after saving the day, Mario is met by a shadowy silhouette. The figure turns. It's Miyamoto.

"Have you heard of the Smash Bros. Initiative?" he asks. "I'm putting together a team."

Thus, the NCU is born...

Rather than Illumination hoarding all of the rights to each Nintendo franchise, however, the ensuing cinematic universe is split across a whole host of different animation studios, each applying their unique visuals and vibe to a different game series; the perfect marriage of Nintendo franchise and animation studio.

Of course, this is but a fiction. Currently, the planned Nintendo movies start and finish with Illumination's snappily-named The Super Mario Bros. Movie and there is no way that other studios would want to jump on board as part of a shared cinematic universe. But seeing different animation houses tackle some of Nintendo's biggest franchises? Now that would be cool.

Below, we have assembled the bulging list of Nintendo franchises which we have paired with the animation studios we think would be the best fit to take them on — excluding Mario of course: he's taken. We have kept this solely within the realms of animated film (come on, would you really like to see a live-action Kirby??) and have decided to limit the pairings to one franchise per studio - because, let's admit it, Ghibli would have a lot of work on its hands otherwise.

Happy imagining!...

Animal Crossing - Walt Disney Animation Studios

Animal Crossing X Disney
Image: Nintendo Life / Nintendo, Disney

Some of these pairings seemed more obvious than others and teaming up Animal Crossing and Disney would surely be an open goal.

Getting talking animals right is a difficult business, and managing to handle it in a way that is not all-out comical but also extremely wholesome is tougher still. What better studio to take on the challenge than the House of Mouse?

We're thinking more along the lines of its 3D animal-centric animated projects like Zootopia, Bolt, and Chicken Little, but we wouldn't rule out a hand-drawn take on Nintendo's most wholesome franchise - how cozy would Animal Crossing be in the style of Brother Bear or Bambi?? We've already seen hand-drawn Animal Crossing, though, in the 2006's Gekijōban Dōbutsu no Mori, so we're leaning towards CG Nook.

Donkey Kong - Aardman

Donkey Kong X Aardman
Image: Nintendo Life / Nintendo, Aardman

It's the wrong barrel, lad!

With his bulbous eyes and oversized hands, Donkey Kong already has the hallmarks of a cracking Aardman production.

As the studio has grown into more ambitious projects, so too has its sets expanded in size. We know that Aardman can make a mean jungle (just look at Early Man), and a character as chaotic as DK deserves to have a good amount of dry humour to boot.

It would certainly be a challenge (and many, many years in the making) but we would think that Aardman's eye for movement would be the perfect accompaniment to Donkey Kong's swings, rolls, and ground slaps.

Fire Emblem - Toei Animation

Fire Emblem X Toei Animation
Image: Nintendo Life / Nintendo, Toei Animation

For some of Nintendo's franchises, style needs to take priority. While it would be interesting to see how Fire Emblem's turn-based combat would translate to a big-screen action set piece, it is hard to imagine the film appearing in any animated style other than anime.

Who better to take a stab at a Fire Emblem film, then, than the studio behind the Dragon Ball and Digimon series, Toei Animation. Not only does the studio have experience in adapting video games, but its work on Dragon Ball would put it in good stead for all of the slashing, blasting, and physics-challenging hairstyles that would have to run throughout a Fire Emblem film.

Of course, there was a Fire Emblem anime trialed back in 1995, but with only two released episodes to show for it, we don't see the harm in starting anew.

Kid Icarus - DreamWorks

Kid Icarus X Dreamworks
Image: Nintendo Life / Nintendo, Dreamworks

From flying too close to the sun to chilling out on the moon, Kid Icarus would seem to be a prime fit for Dreamworks.

Perhaps most famous for its work on the Shrek movies, we were actually thinking more along the lines of How To Train Your Dragon with this pick. Old-timey setting? Aerial sequences? Floppy-haired protagonist? It's all right there!

Looking at the move to a more cartoony style of animation that can be seen in the studio's upcoming Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, we're imagining that style coming into its own for Icarus' kid-centric story.

Contracts would need to be signed preventing the use of any Smash Mouth in the project, however.

Kirby - Illumination

Kirby X Illumination
Image: Nintendo Life / Nintendo, Illumination

Ok, we'll come clean. We know that Illumination will have its hands full at the moment, but once the Mario Movie is out then it will surely be looking for a follow-up project, and what could be better suited than Kirby?

You take a Minion, pad it out a little, paint it pink, and boom, you've got yourself the model for Kirby. What we are saying is that Illumination has history with little round guys and Kirby is surely the littlest, roundest guy out there.

Of course, on top of this, Kirby is arguably one of Nintendo's most child-friendly franchises - an area of the animation market that Illumination is certainly cornering.

However — and yes, this should be understood as a warning — if this is to happen and anyone shows up to screenings dressed in suits (perhaps under the title of 'Kirballers' or something similarly weak), we are not to be held accountable.

The Legend of Zelda - Studio Ghibli

Zelda X Ghibli
Image: Nintendo Life / Nintendo, Studio Ghibli

The question with a task like this was always going to be the same: Which Nintendo franchise are we going to give to Ghibli?

With its massive painterly landscapes, intricate character details, and worlds that feel truly lived in, Ghibli would be able to take on near enough any Nintendo game and turn it into an instant all-time classic. But seriously, how could we not pick Zelda?

Inspired in no small amount by Matt Vince's short animation 'Zelda X Ghibli Film Trailer', Hyrule is the obvious location for a Ghibli adventure. We have embedded Vince's video below and it is well worth a watch to get an idea of just how beautiful the film would be.

Without leaning too hard into our unabashed Ghibli adoration, the studio would perhaps be the best positioned to pull off a Nintendo adaptation straight off the bat. It can do stunning environments, sword-swinging action, and has such an attentive ear for music that we can't think of a studio better to handle Kondo's themes on the big screen? Too much!

Luigi's Mansion - Laika

Luigi's Mansion X Laika
Image: Nintendo Life / Nintendo, Laika

Yes, Luigi is going to be in the Mario Movie. Heck, from what we have seen already it seems clear that Illumination will be leaning into the unlucky spookiness of his gaming past; but what if Luigi's Mansion was allowed to stand on its own two quivering feet?

There is certainly enough in the franchise to warrant a solo film adaptation — spooky house, jump scares, nonsensical gibbering old man — you get the picture. You throw a production from Coraline and ParaNorman studio Laika into the mix, and you get something drenched in a whole lot more nightmare fuel.

But this could really work! Luigi's Mansion is that brand of soft-core horror that has all the tropes of grown-up spooks but without any of the sharp edges. Laika could really turn this into something to traumatise the next generation of kids for years to come, all while presenting it in its signature stop motion. Because clay can't be scary, right?