In any story that has Zelda in it, Link is usually doing courageous things in service of Zelda’s plans. Which is only fitting, as Zelda is often representative of either wisdom or light (and sometimes both) in these stories. The eternal battle fought over the fate of Hyrule is between Ganon(dorf) and the forces of darkness versus Zelda and the forces of light. Link, despite his prominence, is simply the sword Zelda wields.
Her role makes much more sense to flesh out, and the recent Super Mario Bros. movie has already laid a perfect template for how to accomplish this. Princess Peach, far from being a damsel in distress, is a genuine leader of the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario, on the other hand, is on an isekai adventure and barely knows his head from his pipe. Like Link, he shows great courage to step up and fight evil, but, like Link, he’s not the driving force behind the story’s events.
Now, some have taken issue with the idea that Mario isn’t the Most Important Special Boy in a movie with his name on the title. Mario’s always been the hero. Why does Peach—why does this damsel—get to be the real hero? And while boilerplate sexism is a terrible way to enjoy movies for children, you know, maybe they have a point. Maybe Zelda should be the most important character in a movie with her name on it.
Puzzle Boxes Over MacGuffins
In most Legend of Zelda games, Link is on a quest to find … things. It doesn’t really matter what they are, does it? Three spiritual stones, four divine beasts, seven dapper dongles, whatever. The objects the player pursues are irrelevant. You could swap the sage medallions in Ocarina of Time for the secret stones in Tears of the Kingdom and it wouldn’t impact the story a bit.
There’s a temptation in video game movie adaptations to reify every object, imbue every symbol with weight, and rely on the mere act of recognition to carry the viewer’s attention. And make no mistake, there will be a slow panning shot revealing the Master Sword at some point.
But I would argue that the spirit of what players of Zelda games would want to experience as viewers of a Zelda movie is the satisfaction of puzzles. It’s notoriously hard to translate things like combat mechanics in a game to a movie—watching a fight scene isn’t necessarily as engaging as participating in one—but puzzles are something films excel at.
I would argue—and hear me out, here—that National Treasure, of all things, offers an excellent template for this approach. Nic Cage’s America-themed Indiana Jones treats American history like lore, pulling out artifacts like Benjamin Franklin’s glasses or locations like Independence Hall to weave together a fictional conspiratorial mystery.
Rather than letting every shield, pot, and slingshot carry significance purely because, “Hey, I recognize that thing,” framing a Legend of Zelda movie as a mystery could let familiar objects be significant because they’re clues. Part of a puzzle to solve.
While a film adaptation of a book can sometimes provide a similar experience to reading it, it’s impossible for a film to give audiences the same feeling as playing a game. The fundamental lack of control over a film’s narrative alters the viewer’s relationship to the story. But engaging viewers with mystery, and with puzzles, activates remarkably similar neurons to the kind used while playing a Legend of Zelda game.